A couple from Alameda County, California filed a complaint on February 23 against a catamaran tour operator in Maui for forcing them to swim to shore on their own after being “abandoned” in the “open ocean” while on a snorkelling excursion.
Elizabeth Webster and Alexander Burckle, seasoned snorkelers who had been to Hawaii before, were on their honeymoon in Maui and had reserved the Lanai Coast Snorkel excursion with Sail Maui for September 23, 2021.
They’re suing the corporation for $5 million because swimming back to shore in choppy water caused them mental harm.
They’ve been severely scarred by it, according to Washkowitz. They are receiving psychological care and are exhibiting physical signs of distress.
The excursion departs from Lahaina and makes stops at “several snorkel spots” along the nearby island of Lanai in search of spinner dolphins, according to the Sail Maui website.
According to the lawsuit, the skipper addressed guests on safety concerns at the first snorkelling location but failed to disclose “snorkelling boundaries” or a “specified return time.”
The waters grew “more tumultuous” and “choppy” after the pair had been snorkelling for nearly an hour, at which point they began swimming back to the boat. They engaged in “aggressive swimming” for around 15 minutes before realising the boat was vanishing from view and concluding it had left without them, according to the lawsuit. They “began signalling distress and begging for assistance,” according to their claim.
Another passenger reportedly noticed the pair was farther out at sea than she was, but the staff assured her that the head count was accurate despite her observations. The lawsuit claims that the crew performed three head counts. The first two head counts indicated that 42 of the 44 passengers were there, but the most recent head check revealed that all 44 guests were present. People were wandering around while they were counting since (the boat) wasn’t organised, according to Washkowitz.
An inquiry for feedback from Sail Maui received no response.
The pair was being brought out to deeper ocean since they were following the boat that was going to a second stop. According to the lawsuit, the couple believed they were in “6-8 foot rolling surf” and were the only boats in the area.
“They worried that drowning was imminent,” the lawsuit alleges. “Plaintiffs came to the conclusion that returning to land was their only chance of survival when they understood the Vessel had abandoned them and was not coming back for them. Plaintiffs were quite afraid and anxious about the choice because they were specifically instructed not to swim to Lanai and that nearby shallow reefs existed in the safety briefing.”
The couple swam the approximate half-mile distance to land. The pair arrived “fatigued and dehydrated.” According to Washkowitz, they also suffered cuts from the reef. The pair tried to attract the attention of passing boats by waving palm fronds and writing “SOS” and “HELP” in the sand.
A local couple in a truck was eventually hailed down, and they used their cellphone to contact Sail Maui, but the firm wasn’t aware that anyone was missing from the charter. The couple was welcomed at the dock on Maui by Sail Maui after making arrangements for them to take a ferry from Lanai to Maui.
According to the lawsuit, Sail Maui now “vocally contacts each named passenger before departing” after the Coast Guard accused the company of negligence during an inquiry.
The fundamental issue is that most of the individuals who patronise these businesses, which are present throughout the islands, are tourists who may or may not have much experience in the sea and may not be accustomed to it, according to Washkowitz. “Being left out that far in the sea is terrifying, even for locals who are accustomed to swimming in this area. It’s really distressing for those who are just visiting. These individuals are the responsibility of (these companies).”