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Don’t Blame Overload for N.Y. Boat Sinking, Lawyer Say

Overloading wasn’t likely responsible for the capsizing of a boat full of Fourth of July fireworks spectators in Long Island Sound, which killed three children trapped in the cabin, the vessel owner’s lawyer said.

Boats “shouldn’t roll over unless something is wrong with the structural integrity of the vessel or something happened,” Jim Mercante, a lawyer with Rubin, Fiorella & Friedman LLP in New York and a retired merchant marine captain, said in a telephone interview. Mercante said he was hired by an insurer to represent the boat’s owner, Kevin Treanor, the father of one of the children who died.

The 34-foot (10-meter) Silverton vessel with 27 people aboard overturned at 10:10 p.m. July 4 off Bayville, between Center Island and Lloyd Neck, about 35 miles northeast of Manhattan. While 24 people were rescued, the bodies of David Aureliano, 12, Harley Treanor, 11, and Victoria Gaines, 8, were found in the cabin, said Officer Maureen Roach, a spokeswoman for Nassau County police.

Silverton Marine Corp., the Millville, New Jersey-based boat manufacturer founded in 1969, is in a production shutdown and has furloughed its staff, according to a notice posted on its website. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 30.

“We are currently closed temporarily,” a voicemail message at Silverton’s office said. Robert Hirsh, the New York attorney listed as representing Silverton in the bankruptcy filing, didn’t immediately return a message.

Cause of Accident

A full forensic evaluation will be needed to determine what caused the sinking near Oyster Bay, Mercante said. He said he doesn’t believe overcapacity was an issue because at least 10 of the people on board were lightweight children.

Silverton’s financial troubles don’t rule out the possibility of a lawsuit against it, Mercante said. He declined to identify the insurer that hired him.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the incident was caused by another boat’s wake, weather or overcrowding, said James Imperiale, a police spokesman. They are also looking into how many life jackets were aboard the craft and whether a mechanical failure contributed to the capsizing, he said.

“We’re not going to be able to look at any of that until we get that boat up,” Imperiale said today in a telephone interview. “Right now, it’s under 60 to 70 feet of water.”

Nassau County police are working on a plan to raise the vessel and may do so as soon as today, Imperiale said. A police boat has been stationed above the wreck since the incident, he said.

Life Jackets

U.S. Coast Guard rules require vessels to carry one personal flotation device for each passenger, while state law calls for children under 12 to wear them at all times except when in a boat’s cabin, Imperiale said.

The Coast Guard doesn’t set maximum-capacity limits for vessels over 26 feet long, said Petty Officer Erik Swanson. Boaters should use “common sense” or an overloaded boat can become unsafe and difficult to handle, he said. Coast Guard crews often conduct random safety checks, and overcrowded boats are one of the things they try to spot, Swanson said.

“We do specifically look for overloaded vessels and to see if there are enough life jackets on board,” he said.

In 2011, the Coast Guard counted 4,588 accidents nationwide that involved 758 deaths, 3,081 injuries and about $52 million of damage to property as a result of recreational boating mishaps.

Boating Accidents

Eighty percent of boaters who drowned in 2011 were aboard vessels less than 21 feet long, according to a Coast Guard report. Collisions were the most common type of accident, with overloading the cause of 29 deaths. Fifteen children under age 13 died while boating, 60 percent of them by drowning, it said.

Almost 19 percent of last year’s recreational boating deaths occurred in July, the deadliest boating month with 142 casualties, according to the report. It was the second-most deadly month in 2010, and the deadliest in 2009. The biggest cause of death in 2011 was alcohol, with 125. Only six people died in 2011 in boating accidents caused by a wave, and 18 from machinery failures.

Detective Lieutenant John Azzata of the Nassau County Police Department said yesterday that alcohol wasn’t believed to be a contributing factor to the Oyster Bay accident.

Crews from Nassau County Police, the Coast Guard, and the Oyster Bay police and fire departments responded to the sinking, Coast Guard Petty Officer Sondra Rivera said. Boaters in the area also assisted in rescuing passengers, she said.

Dolan Fireworks

Bruce Lebens, a yacht broker and boat racer from East Norwich, said he saw emergency trucks responding to the scene as he and his son drove home from watching the fireworks put on by the Dolans, the family that controls Cablevision Systems Corp., from land on Centre Island.

There were as many as 100 boats in the area, which may have contributed to a “cross-chop” of wakes traveling in many directions as they all left simultaneously, Lebens said in a telephone interview yesterday. Even experienced captains can find navigating such conditions difficult, he said.

Lebens, who said he’s been involved in boating for almost six decades, said he spoke to several people connected to the local sailing community and said the vessel may have been at double the safe capacity for its size.

“If you’ve got 27 people on a 34-foot boat, you’re overloaded and the next question is whether there were enough life jackets,” Lebens said.

‘Unfortunate Tragedy’

Treanor was a “very recent” member of the Harbor Boating Club and doesn’t dock his yacht there, commodore Jerry Nigro said in an interview at the marina in Huntington, a New York suburb. He called the sinking an “unfortunate tragedy.”

A man identified by News12 Long Island as Sal Aureliano said he was the uncle of David Aureliano and was operating the yacht, called Candi One. Aureliano said that he was taking the boat home after the fireworks when it was hit by a wave that turned the vessel, according to the report.

“The next thing I knew we were turning,” Aureliano told the local cable-television station in an interview that aired yesterday. “We just kept turning and everybody was in the water. It was chaos.”

Today would have been Gaines’s 8th birthday, according to a post on her mother Lisa Gaines’s Facebook page, which reads, “Happy 8th birthday my beautiful little princess Victoria. Your families hearts are aching for you.”

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