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Captain and masseuse fled sinking charter boat on Jet Ski, stranding surfers in Indian Ocean, lawsuit says

The Quest 1, a charter boat owned by the surf company Rip Curl, was a legend in its time. Built in 1997, the 21-meter luxury vessel was used to scout some of the best waves in exotic places around the world, and was immortalized in now-classic surf movies.

But in 2015, during an excursion carrying eight surfers to the Mentawai Islands, the Quest 1 unexpectedly flooded, causing one of the most sought-after vessels in the surfing business to drop to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

Now, the passengers, all of whom survived the accident, are suing Rip Curl, its executives and the boat’s operators, alleging Rip Curl knew the boat was in disrepair when they embarked on the wave-chasing adventure.

The lawsuit, filed last week in California superior court, offers a new account of the Quest 1’s final moments and the chaotic scene that unfolded as it capsized.

“An incompetent captain and crew, in complete disregard for the plaintiffs’ safety, panicked and abandoned ship without the plaintiffs,” who in turn were “forced to abandon the vessel in the dark of night into very rough seas,” according to the suit, which was first reported in Courthouse News.

The passengers were five Californians and three Australians, described in the complaint as an “avid and active group of surfing enthusiasts.” The complaint said there was a masseuse on board the boat, as well as several crew members.

After paying more than $30,000 to charter the Quest 1, the group set sail in mid-July 2015 from Padang, Indonesia, for a two-week trip to the Mentawai Islands. Located about 90 miles off the coast of West Sumatra, the islands are a popular destination for competitive surfers, boasting “limitless waves” and some of the “best, most consistent surf on the planet,” as the website Surfline once put it.

At about 2:30 a.m. on the third day of their outing, one of the surfers woke up to find the crew scrambling around the ship and speaking in “agitated voices,” according to the complaint. When he approached the back of the ship, the lawsuit said, he saw three feet of seawater rising into the engine room.

The Quest 1’s anti-flooding mechanisms had failed, dooming the vessel. None of the emergency equipment worked, and there was no way to stop the water from pouring in, the lawsuit said, nor was there a radio beacon that would have indicated their position to rescue crews.

At some point, the panicked captain barricaded himself in the Quest 1’s bridge and could be heard spewing obscenities into the radio, according to the complaint. Meanwhile, the surfers ran into the cramped engine room and tried to bail the ship out. Thigh-deep in water, they were eventually forced to give up.

Without warning, just before 4 a.m., the captain hopped into a Jet Ski and fled the Quest 1, leaving the passengers, crew and moribund vessel behind, according to the complaint.

“Chaos ensued,” the lawsuit read. “The masseuse panicked and jumped onto the Jet Ski with the captain. The remaining crew was incapable of launching the life rafts and fled to launch the motorized tender boat. The tender quickly became overloaded as the crew transferred on and cast themselves off from the Quest 1.”

The surfers and an unspecified number of crew members were left clinging to their boards and a pair of small inflatable life rafts, according to the complaint. For the next several hours, the group floated there in the open ocean, the lawsuit said, battling seasickness in the six-foot waves. Around dawn, the Quest 1 sunk below the surface.

By 7:30 a.m., the defendants “had taken no action whatsoever” to alert authorities, the lawsuit said, so one of the surfers and two crew members took off toward what they believed was the shore. A couple of hours later, they returned with another charter boat and retrieved the others, according to the complaint.

The suit alleges negligence, breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment. A representative from Rip Curl didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Monday.

One of the surfers, Pete Nevins, told Surfing Life in 2015 that the group had fought for more than an hour to stop the legendary ship from sinking.

“It was one of those things that happened so quickly, and of course it has to happen in the middle of the night when everyone’s groggy,” he said. “We actually watched the boat sink.”

“We had to abandon ship,” Nevins added. “It was a frenzy at first — people were just jumping off, going under the ski, all that stuff. … But in the end we regained composure and got everyone into the life rafts.”