Federal marshals arrest Seattle-based megayacht in wrongful death lawsuit

The 300-foot Sahara was arrested as part of a wrongful death lawsuit.

The United States Marshals office has arrested the 300-foot ship Sahara as part of a lawsuit filed this week by the family of a woman who died after apparently falling from the deck of the former oceanographic research vessel docked on Seattle’s Salmon Bay.

Lia Hawkins drowned Oct. 21, 2010 while working on a project to convert the aging ship into a megayacht for an Italian hotel designer and former race car driver, Emanuele Garosci.

Authorities have ruled Hawkins’ death accidental. But her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle earlier this week, claiming that the 33-year-old woman’s drowning was caused by the negligence of the vessel’s owner and the unseaworthiness of the Sahara.

According to a report released by the law firm representing the family, the lawsuit alleges that Hawkins fell overboard while throwing scrap metal off an upper deck of the ship into a dumpster located on the dock. No one witnessed the accident, and Hawkins’ body was found the following day in the water.

“The lawsuit alleges that the vessel’s foreign owner, G Shipping, Ltd. of Malta, failed to adopt appropriate safety procedures and failed to utilize appropriate safety equipment to afford its employees a safe means of disposing of scrap metal being removed from the vessel,” according to the release.

Lawyers for the family asked the court to seize, or arrest, the vessel until the lawsuit is adjudicated. The vessel owner can ask the court to release the ship in exchange for a bond.

Attorney J.D. Stahl, who is representing the family, declined to say how much money the family was seeking in the lawsuit, but that it would be significant.

“This was a beautiful young woman with a loving family and a wonderful future ahead of her,” he said. “We are going to be asking for a lot of money.”

Sahara was commissioned in 1966 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, a precursor to NOAA, and was among the largest ships built by the U.S. government for oceanographic research.

The ship eventually was docked in Kirkland, where it served as a temporary breakwater, and became a controversial landmark. It was purchased in 2009 by Garosci, who reportedly planned to overhaul the ship and transform it into a state-of-the-art luxury yacht.

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