The families of two of the four Maine natives who perished when cargo ship El Faro sank in a hurricane Oct. 1 have joined legal efforts to hold the ship’s owner financially responsible for the loss, according to the law firm representing them.

Attorneys with Berman & Simmons, a Lewiston law firm, represent the families of Danielle Randolph, 34, and Dylan Meklin, 23, who were among the 33 crew members killed when the cargo ship El Faro sank during Hurricane Joaquin, according to a press release issued Tuesday.

Attorneys Benjamin Gideon and Steven Silin filed motions Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Florida, opposing efforts by the ship’s owner, TOTE Maritime, to limit its liability and financial responsibility arising out of the loss of El Faro and its crew to $15 million. The documents also include claims for unspecified damages for the families.

Since the disaster, attorneys from Florida, Texas and throughout the country have filed lawsuits in Florida’s state and federal courts on behalf of victims, the press release said. TOTE Maritime filed its own lawsuit, commonly referred to as a “limitation action,” seeking to limit its liability and responsibility for paying claims.

If TOTE were successful in limiting its liability, the families of the 33 crew members would receive about $400,000 if the $15 million were to be distributed equally, Gideon said Tuesday.

“For these [Maine] families, this loss is still very fresh, but they want answers,” he said in a telephone interview. “They want to know why this happened.
“These are families with deep roots in Rockland and the Maine Maritime Academy, and they are concerned about the safety of others with careers in the maritime field,” Gideon said.

Randolph and Meklin were from Rockland and graduates of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, according to previously published reports. Randolph was the second mate on El Faro. Meklin was an engineer on his first job at sea when the ship sank.

Also lost aboard El Faro were 53-year-old Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham, a 1988 graduate of Maine Maritime, and Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, a 2012 graduate of Maine Maritime. Information about whether their families have filed claims was not available Tuesday.

Gideon said Tuesday that he has not been contacted by families of other El Faro crew members.

The federal judge in Florida set Dec. 21 as the deadline for families who wanted to contest TOTE’s claim that the company was not at fault for the loss of the crew and its cargo. As of Tuesday, more than a dozen families, including the two from Maine, had filed claims.

After leaving Florida en route to Puerto Rico, Davidson informed the cargo ship’s parent company that he intended to avoid the predicted path of a hurricane, but the following day he sent a mayday saying the container ship had a hull breach and had lost propulsion, according to a report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board. At the time of the emergency call, the vessel was only about 20 miles from the eye of the storm, according to electronic data, the report stated.

The claims filed on behalf of the Maine families are very similar to those filed by other attorneys, Gideon said Tuesday. All accuse TOTE of sending an overloaded, unseaworthy vessel in need of repair and without adequate lifesaving equipment in the path of a deadly storm.

The Maine families are seeking unspecified compensatory damages, loss of support, past and future earnings, loss of services, loss of nurture and guidance of dependent children and family, compensation for pre-death pain and suffering, funeral expenses and punitive damages.