Survivors of Tofino whale-watching incident sue tour company

German brothers accuse Jamie's Whaling Station of negligence after Leviathan II capsized last fall, leaving six dead

The Leviathan II capsized off Vargas Island near Tofino on Oct. 25

Two passengers who survived a whale-watching boat capsizing off the coast of Tofino last fall, killing six people, have filed a potential class-action lawsuit against the tour company, alleging negligence.

The documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court last week provide new details on the devastating incident that shocked and saddened the coastal community known for its whale-watching industry.

Christian and Dirk Barchfield say they had been on vacation last fall when they booked a whale-watching tour on Oct. 25 with Jamie’s Whaling Station.

The two brothers from Germany allege Wayne Dolby, the captain, and two other crew members aboard the Leviathan II told the 24 passengers where the life-jackets were located and how to put them on, but that they were not required to wear them.

The Barchfields claim the sea was calm enough at the start, but high waves began to crest as the vessel reached open water.

The group caught sight of some whales going by and observed for about 45 minutes before the Barchfields allege the captain decided to navigate to a different location and the boat again moved into rough water with waves more than two metres high.

“At no point were the Plaintiffs or other passengers on the open deck advised by the defendant Dolby or other crew members to either put on life jackets or to keep them easily accessible.”

Christian Barchfield claims he “watched the high waves crashing against the window and felt very uncomfortable and afraid,” while his brother alleges the crew did not demonstrate any concern about the sea conditions.

At this point, the brothers claim the vessel “tipped violently to the left and capsized.”

Dirk Barchfield claims he clung to a life ring with several other passengers while being hit by the high waves, while Christian was trapped in the lower, indoor deck, being “thrown about as though he were in a washing machine.”

Eventually, a fishing boat arrived and two men from the Ahousaht First Nation called in other boats and helped pull the survivors out of the water.

The brothers were hospitalized and treated for cuts, bruises, scratches, hypothermia and severe shock.

Six people did not survive, all from Britain, including an 18-year-old boy who’d been celebrating his birthday on a family trip.

The Barchfields are seeking general, special and punitive damages, accusing the defendants of negligence because they knew or ought to have known it was unsafe to go out in those conditions.

None of the allegations has been tested in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.

At the time of the capsizing, tour company owner Jamie Bray said the boat had made that trip all the time and that Dolby had 20 year’ experience, with the crew going through safety drills every two weeks.