Insurer, owner at odds over lost boat

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The owner of a 51-foot sportfishing boat that sank this fall after it collided with something “big and black” is at odds with his insurance company over payment for the loss.

The owner of a 51-foot sportfishing boat that sank this fall after it collided with something “big and black” is at odds with his insurance company over payment for the loss.

Attorney F. Emmet Ciccone says State Farm was refusing to pay for the loss of the boat pending an investigation. “We are in the process of either resolving the situation or going to litigation,” Ciccone says. “We’ve been very cooperative in getting [State Farm] all of the information they need.” Ciccone represents Frank Redmiles, the Philadelphia owner of Chief, a custom-built Andy Mortenson sportfishing boat.

Neither Ciccone nor Teanice Wells-Ernest, a State Farm spokesperson, would discuss the details of Redmiles’ claim due to privacy issues. “The standard claims process involves an investigation to determine whether the loss meets the terms of the insurance agreement,” Wells-Ernest says.

Redmiles said in published reports that State Farm was refusing to pay his claim based on suspicion that the fishing trip was a charter, in which case the sinking wouldn’t be covered under his policy. In a September interview with Soundings, John A. Werler, one of the men aboard Chief at the time of the sinking, said it “was not a chartered fishing trip” but was “just a bunch of guys going out for a fun day of fishing.”

As of mid-November the Coast Guard’s investigation of the sinking remained open, says Lt. Otis Barrett, an investigator with Sector Delaware Bay. Investigators were looking into whether Redmiles indeed was operating a chartered fishing trip the day Chief sank, says Barrett. Redmiles does not have a captain’s license, he says, which would be required to take paying passengers on a charter. It was unclear when the Coast Guard investigation would be complete.

“If my client took these guys out fishing and they all chipped in for the price of fuel, the insurance company can try to construe that as a charter and refuse payment of his claim,” Ciccone says.

Chief sank Sept. 23 about 35 miles off Indian River Inlet in the Delaware Seashore State Park. Redmiles, Werler and five other Pennsylvania men crammed into a four-person life raft and drifted off Delaware for nearly two days before being rescued by the Coast Guard. Redmiles speculated that Chief may have collided with a submarine. However, three days after the men were rescued a dead 34-foot, 20-ton humpback whale washed up on the beach in Wildwood Crest, N.J., and authorities wondered if that’s what the boat hit. (See the December issue of Soundings for more on the sinking.)

Ciccone recommends boaters carefully read their marine insurance policies before getting on the water. “What you buy for insurance isn’t always what you get. There are exceptions on every policy,” he says. “Read your policies very carefully. If you’re not satisfied, you should get a new policy or change companies.”