The families of two Maine crew members who perished in the El Faro maritime disaster have joined legal efforts to block the ship’s owners from limiting their liability in the sinking, their attorneys said Tuesday.

“This tragedy has been felt in Maine, Florida, and throughout the maritime community. We do not think it is appropriate for any court to impose limitations on the shipowner’s liability or financial responsibility,” said one of the lawyers, Benjamin Gideon of Lewiston. “Our role is to protect the rights of the Randolph and Meklin families. Today’s filings are the first step in the process.”

Gideon represents the families of Dylan Meklin, 23, and Danielle Randolph, 34, who died when the cargo ship El Faro sank in a hurricane on Oct. 1.

In filings in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Florida, Gideon said his clients objected to owner TOTE Maritime’s motion to limit its liability. The court ruled in November that TOTE’s liability was capped at about $15 million and set a December deadline for families to sue.

Gideon’s filing on Tuesday asserts that the owner was responsible for allowing the ship to navigate into the path of the hurricane while in an unseaworthy condition and overloaded with cargo. It also states that the limited liability fund is inadequate, and that the limitation of liability is unconstitutional because it violates the families’ rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

The 790-foot El Faro sank during Hurricane Joaquin with 33 crew members aboard, including four Mainers: Randolph and Meklin, both of Rockland; Michael Davidson of Windham, the captain; and Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton. All were graduates of Maine Maritime Academy, as was a fifth crew member, Mitchell Kuflik of Brooklyn, New York.


The El Faro left Jacksonville on Sept. 29 bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico. At the time, the storm was still classified as a tropical storm. On board the ship were 391 containers topside and 294 trailers and vehicles below deck. The National Weather Service issued an advisory upgrading Joaquin to hurricane status while the ship was several hundred miles into its voyage.

The vessel remained on its course through seven additional hurricane advisories over the next 21 hours. On Oct. 1, however, the El Faro lost propulsion and was unable to evade Joaquin, which grew to a Category 4 hurricane with winds that topped 130 mph, leaving the ship helpless to move from its location as Joaquin bore down.

The ship sank off the Bahamas.


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