Five months on, survivors of deadly catamaran accident still waiting for answers

May 3, 2015
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Nearly five months after the catamaran Pura Vida Princess capsized off Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast with more than 100 people on board, the investigation into the accident that killed three foreign tourists remains ongoing. Survivors have been waiting for the National Insurance Institute (INS) to process their claims, and a recent attempt to inspect the wreckage of the day cruiser came up short.

The Pura Vida Princess, owned by Global Crust Firm S.A., left Herradura Bay on Jan. 8 on its way across the Gulf of Nicoya for a day trip to Tortuga Island. Reports said that the sea was calm when the vessel set sail, but within 30 minutes the catamaran found itself in rough seas with waves as high as 2 meters and winds up to 45 knots, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in San José.

Before the ship’s captain could return to port, the catamaran started taking on water. The ship tipped on its starboard side and capsized, killing three passengers from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Todd Olson, 51, of Shawnee, Kansas, was on board with his wife, Connie, and their two children, Carley and Derec, when the catamaran went down.

“I must admit feeling frustrated and angry watching from a distance what appears to be a half-assed effort to investigate the accident,” Olson told The Tico Times in an email.

Olson sustained a shoulder injury when the ship capsized, an accident that changed his life, he said. He went back to work after he returned to the United States but the physical demands of his job as an animal and pest control specialist became too much after his injury. After 16 years in the profession, Olson left his career behind. In April, Olson underwent surgery for a torn labrum and rotater cuff, and a ruptured bicep tendon.

He has been able to find work since but he had to take a pay cut that has significantly affected his family’s finances, he said. Olson estimated his family’s losses from the accident at $15,000. The family submitted their insurance claim to INS but has yet to hear anything.

Susan Shonk, another survivor who previously spoke with The Tico Times about her ordeal during and after the Pura Vida Princess sank, said in an email that she, too, is still waiting for word from INS on her family’s claims. Shonk added that she had been interviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, in the U.S.

A statement from the INS Operations Department to The Tico Times said that details about the status of the Pura Vida Princess insurance claims are confidential. The agency did not comment further.

The U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB were in Costa Rica from April 12 to April 22 to assist Costa Rican authorities with the investigation.

A U.S. Coast Guard dive team traveled to Costa Rica to find the site of the shipwreck. After searching an area over 2 square miles of the suspected site, divers and an unmanned submersible were unable to get a visual of the catamaran, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in San José and comments from Costa Rican Coast Guard Director Martin Arias to the daily La Nación. The U.S. Coast Guard team did identify an object on the sea floor with a sonar signal that matched the characteristics of the catamaran.

The U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB, at the request of the Costa Rican government, have also been working with local authorities to review safety and regulatory protocols.

A spokeswoman for Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), Xinia Zamora, told The Tico Times that the OIJ would not comment on the ongoing investigation or what the next steps would be after divers were unable to reach the shipwreck. The Prosecutor’s Office also did not comment on the investigation, saying they are waiting for a final report from the OIJ.

Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Tatiana Vargas previously told this newspaper that no charges would be filed until the OIJ report was complete.

A final report on the cause of the capsizing is expected sometime this fall.

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