Investigation finds ‘no negligence’ in deadly Costa Rica catamaran accident 

October 23, 2015
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Bob Patterson and a group of friends from Chilliwack, British Columbia, were four days into a two-week vacation in Costa Rica on Jan. 8 when the catamaran they and at least 90 others were on sank. The capsizing of the Pura Vida Princess, one of the worst maritime accidents in recent Costa Rican history, claimed the lives of three foreign tourists including Patterson’s friend, Sharon Johnson.

“Her loss has been devastating for her husband and our group. It’s a day that changed our lives forever,” Patterson told The Tico Times. “The government told us they would get to the bottom of what happened.”

More than nine months later, the government has, at least, eliminated one possible cause of the tragedy.

After several months of investigation with the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) has determined that negligence is not to blame.

“The conclusion that the OIJ gave to the prosecutor in Garabito [a Pacific coast canton that includes Jacó, near where the Pura Vida Princess sank] was that there was no indication, evidence or witnesses indicating that the cause of the shipwreck was negligence or damages to the ship,” OIJ spokeswoman Paola Madrigal told The Tico Times in an email. Rather, she said, it was due to “natural causes.”

Survivors of the Pura Vida Princess catamaran accident cling to life preservers and floating coolers in the Gulf of Nicoya on Jan. 9, 2015. Three tourists drowned when the vessel capsized in rough seas.
Survivors of the Pura Vida Princess catamaran accident cling to life preservers and floating coolers in the Gulf of Nicoya, on Jan. 8, 2015. (Courtesy Susan Shonk)

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 indicated 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. 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, one each from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The OIJ investigation was delivered to the Prosecutor’s Office sometime in June or July, according to Madrigal. The Tico Times requested the full report but the OIJ declined to provide it.

Although the OIJ determined there was no negligence in the accident, the case remains open, according to Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Tatiana Vargas. Vargas would not comment on the ongoing investigation but said the prosecutor in Garabito is waiting for the results of two pending private investigations paid for by the victims before deciding whether to pursue a criminal case.

Steven Ferris, a former prosecutor and a board member of The Tico Times’ parent company, said that if the OIJ does not find cause it would be unlikely the Prosecutor’s Office would file criminal charges. Prosecutors have the legal right to pursue a case without the assistance of an OIJ investigation but “it would have to be an enormous effort to collect evidence on its own,” Ferris said. He added that the OIJ’s report of no wrongdoing would bolster the defense’s case.

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Patterson, who was on the Pura Vida Princess that fateful day, said he was disappointed to learn of the OIJ’s report.

“I find that hard to fathom,” Patterson said. “We would like to see someone take accountability for this. There had to be errors on someone’s part for us to be in that situation to begin with.”

(Via Pura Vida Princess Tours Facebook)
The 100-foot Pura Vida Princess catamaran that sunk on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. (Via Pura Vida Princess Tours Facebook)

Patterson also said that neither he nor his group had received any word on the status of their insurance claims since June. He is not alone. Another passenger from the catamaran, Todd Olson, told The Tico Times in September that he and others he knew from the accident have yet to collect on their claims.

Calls to Álvaro Masis, the lawyer who was in contact with Patterson and other claimants on behalf of the Pura Vida Princess, were not answered by close of business Friday. Any response will be added to this article.

More than 10 months after the accident, Patterson said that he and his wife are still trying to recover emotionally from the experience. His wife continues to have nightmares about the capsizing, and he said they both think often of Sharon Johnson, who was 70 years old when she drowned in the accident.

“Yes, we’d like to be reimbursed for the stuff we lost, but is that the biggest thing?” Patterson asked. “How do you pay for a loss of life?”

If you have an insurance claim pending or fulfilled from the Pura Vida Princess accident, let us know.

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