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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Whale tour boat fined in '03 death

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

The U.S. Coast Guard has levied a preliminary fine of $5,500 against an O'ahu tour boat company for a violation related to the death of a 3-year-old boy during a Dec. 25, 2003, whale-watch cruise.

The Coast Guard also initiated action to revoke the boat captain's master's license for negligence, but a hearing has not been held on that, an official said.

Ryker Hamilton of Norfolk, Va., was aboard the American Dream with his parents and grandparents when the 76-foot vessel struck a humpback whale about a mile east of Diamond Head Buoy. The boy, who was in his father's arms, was jolted forward and struck his neck and head on a deck railing. The pair then fell backward and Ryker's head hit the deck. An autopsy determined the child died almost immediately when his spine was severed.

A Coast Guard investigation revealed that boat captain Monroe Wightman III was busy adjusting the volume of the public address system on the American Dream and "failed to maintain safe navigation" with whales nearby. The captain "could have brought the vessel to a complete stop and avoided the incident had he not been distracted and seen the whales at the time they first appeared directly in front of the vessel," the report said.

The company may appeal before a final assessment is issued, said Coast Guard spokesman Gary Chappell. No hearing has been held on Coast Guard action to suspend or revoke Wightman's master's license, he said.

Dream Cruises president Michael Watson could not be contacted yesterday to comment.

A lawsuit alleging negligence by the company was settled in December, but the details are confidential. The suit was filed on behalf of the boy's parents, Ryan and Renee Hamilton, and grandparents, Robert and Sandra Hamilton of O'ahu.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.