Yacht That Sunk Tanker Almost Had Second Wreck the Same Night, Crew Says
First Officer Took Helm from Captain, Lawsuit Alleges
The yacht captain whose 207-foot vessel sunk a Bahamian tanker nearly ran onto rocks later that night. The first officer had to take over the helm to avert a second disaster, according to documents filed in U.S. federal court.
On Dec. 23, 2021, superyacht Utopia IV slammed into the stern of Tropic Breeze sinking her and causing $7.9 million in damage to herself. The National Transportation Safety Board recently released a report which blamed both crews for failing to keep a proper watch.
New details of the accident, including the name of Utopia IV’s captain, were revealed in a Jones Act lawsuit filed by four members of her crew, alleging that the yacht’s owner had failed to pay medical bills for injuries they suffered in the collision. The four crew members who claimed injuries are Electro-Technical Officer Eric Ward, Seaman Gordon Brown, Bosun Ryan Fitzgerald and Deckhand Samuel Parrott.
The Nov. 22, 2022 lawsuit named Matthew Inglis as captain of Utopia IV. Ingliss is neither a defendant nor a plaintiff in the suit.
The Jones Act provides medical protection for bonafide “seamen”—that is individuals who spend at least 30 percent of their time working on a vessel on navigable waters. Unlike workers compensation, Jones Act claims are filed directly against a seaman’s employer. In this case, the employer was Utopia Yachting LLC, an entity controlled by Lauren Redinger.
Redinger was not on board at the time of the accident. The vessel was on charter.
People aboard Utopia IV were injured when they were thrown forward in the 20-knot impact, as illustrated by a video showing charter guests being thrown out of their chairs. “Several of the yacht’s crew were thrown to the deck or into bulkheads as Utopia IV struck the tank vessel at a relative speed of about 15 knots; three crewmembers sustained minor injuries,” NTSB investigators wrote. “The Utopia IV’s captain was in the main dining area and was thrown into the “forward bulkhead and door frame.”
Lawsuit complaints echoed the NTSB conclusion that the captain had left the helm in the hands of an unqualified watchstander, identified as Fitzgerald, shortly before the collision.
After the accident and rescue of the Tropical Breeze crew by another yacht, the damaged Utopia IV limped back to Nassau about 15 miles to the southeast. Then, according to the lawsuit, she nearly got into a second wreck at the entrance to Nassau Harbor.
“Fitzgerald noticed that the captain was taking the yacht dangerously close to rocks, and without intervention the captain would crash the vessel once again,” lawyers for Fitzgerald wrote. “The first officer immediately took over and made an emergency maneuver to prevent collision with rocks in the channel.”
According to YouTube channel Superyacht News, the captain was shouted at over the radio by Bahamian port authorities during his approach in the harbor “because he was pointing the boat in the wrong direction.”
The rocks in question are likely one of two breakwaters on either side of the west entrance to Nassau Harbour.
Lawyers for Lauren Ridinger denied that this near-miss had ever happened. They denied that the crew had not been compensated for their injuries and denied that Utopia’s owners had failed to properly train the crew, including “negligently failing to train the captain to not leave the yacht’s bridge during his watch.”
“Since the incident occurred, management has cared for the crew of the vessel and can confirm medical bills and daily maintenance have been paid in conformance with maritime law,” a spokesman for Lauren Ridinger told the Superyacht News.
Ridinger’s lawyers accused one of the plaintiffs, Eric Ward, of spreading “misinformation to various marine gossip outlets in an attempt to unfairly influence public opinion against the defendants.”
According to her lawyers, Ward used “extortion” to try to force a settlement from Ridinger by threatening to write “a 150-page nonfiction novel called ‘Market Utopia Crash’.” Ridinger’s lawyers also wrote that the plaintiffs “colluded and conspired…for the sole purpose of amplifying and boosting one another’s claims.”
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Lauren Ridinger and her husband, multi-level marketing mogul J.R. Ridinger, took delivery of the $50 million yacht from Italian builder Rosinavi in 2018. The Ridingers have used a succession of yachts to entertain “A-list” celebrities over the years, notably Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. When Ridinger died from a pulmonary embolism in August 2022, Affleck and Lopez sat next to Lauren Redinger at the funeral.
J.R. Ridinger was founder of Market America, a multi-level marketing company, that settled a federal racketeering lawsuit by paying more than $300,000 and has frequently been accused of crossing legal lines into the realm of fraud. That is, being a “pyramid scheme.”
Utopia IV is up for sale now with a $47.9 million price tag. She’ll be on display this week at the Miami International Boat Show.