Case Studies:

Light Bulb Arson

The owner of a 34’ wood-planked cabin cruiser anticipated reduction of financial debt by way of a total loss settlement from a yacht insurer. The vessel was laid up on shore at a marina. Allegedly, its owner was undertaking spring maintenance to the inboard engine when he decided to travel to a nearby town to have lunch at a restaurant. During his absence an onboard fire ensued, destroying the boat.

Our investigation revealed a dish-shaped engine pulley wheel had been removed and placed at the base of the engine. Draped over the pulley wheel was a thick cloth, saturated with gasoline. An activated 200-watt incandescent trouble light dangled 6” over top of the pulley wheel, providing a heat source sufficient to ignite gasoline vapours. The insurer successfully denied payment and the boat owner was eventually charged.

Fatal Capsize

On a clear, warm, and calm summer day, three adults and a five-year-old child were fishing from a 15’ fibreglass runabout. It had an enclosed bow, sleeper seats, and was equipped with an 80 hp. outboard engine. An anchor had been deployed and secured from the stern. The water depth was 7 feet. Suddenly and without warning, the bow rose up in the air and the craft quickly sank stern first. A cabin cruiser nearby responded to screams for help. The authorities conducted a limited investigation and concluded a 268 lb. drowning victim, who had been standing at the rear corner of the boat to urinate overboard, caused it to capsize and eject all occupants into the water.

Our investigation revealed the three survivors were unaware of the victim’s actions. Although their attention was focused on the lines in the water, no one felt any motion whatsoever from the person who allegedly caused the boat to flip backward. During a physical test, we verified it would have been impossible for an individual of such weight to capsize the craft in the manner described by the authorities. 

Interview of persons aboard the cabin cruiser revealed that a high performance lead boat, involved in a poker run, had passed by moments before they heard the survivors yelling for help and saw the fishing boat in a vertical position. We discovered the high performance race boat produced a substantial wake from twin 1,200 hp. inboard engines, and was in 90' of water when it passed by the fishermen. Coincidentally, the wind abruptly increased. As the wind-driven wake from the high performance vessel reached shallow water, it rose to a height greater than the depth of the fishing boat’s transom, quickly filling the passenger compartment with water and resulted in the craft sinking stern first.  A judge concluded that the owner of the fishing boat was not negligent.

Turtles, Turtles, Everywhere

In disbelief of such an extraordinary tale, a yacht insurer requested us to investigate the cause of severe damages sustained by a 48’ sailboat. The incident occurred off the coast of North Carolina. The owner encountered engine failure, and while under sail, the vessel became surrounded by hundreds of turtles. Impacts from the turtles broke off the rudder. Having lost all ability to steer, the sailboat eventually drifted onto a sandbar. While stranded, high winds tore the sails. A heavy sea at low tide severely rocked the boat to the degree that its keel began to separate from the hull.  Finally, the mast collapsed. The Coast Guard successfully towed the sailboat to a local repair facility, where it was hauled out to avoid sinking.

Examination of the damages revealed numerous concave impacts to the bottom of the hull. In addition, there were various angled scrape marks from stem to stern and just above the waterline. In consultation with the repairer, we verified the damages were consistent with impacts from turtles, and learned that it was the migrating season for these ectothermic, cold-blooded reptiles. Their heads and limbs are non-retractable.  Unfortunately, the Canadian owner of the sailboat was unaware of this annual migrating event. The insurer was satisfied the claim was valid.

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