Lawsuit filed over boat crash that nearly drowned Lowell captain

Paul Belley, of Lowell, says other captain was at fault in collision that nearly killed him

Lowell fishing captain Paul Belley’s boat, the Janet Marie, sinks next to another boat that pulled up to rescue Belley’s passengers at the mouth of the Merrimack River in Newburyport on Aug. 17.
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Months after Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley was nearly dragged to the bottom of the Merrimack River and drowned following a collision between boats, Belley has filed a lawsuit accusing the other captain and boat owner involved of reckless navigation.

Belley’s attorney, Scott Bratton of Lowell said his client suffered broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, PTSD and a cut on his arm as a result of the Aug. 17 incident in which Belley’s boat was struck by a larger vessel and then capsized, leaving Belley trapped underneath it with a rope wrapped around his arm.

Bratton said the larger vessel, the 65-foot Captain George, owned by Captain’s Fishing Parties Inc. of Newburyport didn’t stop after crashing into Belley’s 21-foot Janet Marie, a boat he named after his wife.

“We think it’s pretty reckless and outrageous conduct to strike the boat No. 1, but to compound it by not stopping to rescue them is unconscionable in my view,” Bratton said.

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

  • Photos showing some of the damage to Lowell fishing boat captain Paul Belley’s boat after it was struck, capsized and sank in the Merrimack River this summer. Photos courtesy Scott Bratton

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The rope that wrapped around Belley’s arm as his boat capsized could have seen him dragged along with the boat to the bottom of the Merrimack had Newburyport’s Assistant Harbormaster Tim Wareham not jumped into the waters with a knife and cut the rope off Belley’s arm, allowing him to swim to the surface.

“It was obviously very traumatic for him,” Bratton said of Belley. “He was very fortunate that he was not more seriously hurt.”

A month later, Wareham was honored by the town of Newburyport for his actions, Bratton said.

“Without thought of his own safety, Tim Wareham jumped into the water, cut the rope that was holding the Captain down, and rescued him,” Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday wrote in a certificate of commendation for Wareham.

Belley, who lives on Alma Street in the Pawtucketville neighborhood, is a former Lowell City Council candidate who has captained a fishing boat for years, and who often plays his saxophone at charitable events throughout Greater Lowell. For years he was a regular guest at the Day of Remembrance ceremony held at Lowell City Hall by Parents of Murdered Children.

Belley is seeking well over $100,000 in damages from Captain’s Fishing Parties Inc., 10 82nd St., Newburyport, which owns the Captain George, as well as from “John Doe,” the unidentified individual who was captaining the Captain George that day. The lawsuit is filed in Essex Superior Court. To read the complaint filed in court, click here.

A message seeking comment that was left with the company Friday has not been returned.

Bratton said neither Captain’s Fishing, the Newburyport Harbormaster, nor the Coast Guard have yet informed Belley who the other captain was.

Bratton, who declined to make Belley available for comment due to the pending litigation, said that, when the crash occurred, Belley was returning from a fishing trip with two men and two boys who had won their trip in a charity raffle.

According to the commendation for Wareham issued by Newburyport, the two boys on Belley’s boat were 8 years old.

Belley slowed his boat because another boat was moving slowly in front of him, Bratton said. But when Belley slowed, the larger boat that was behind him, the 65-foot Captain George, did not slow down, and struck Belley’s boat from behind on the port (left) side, according to the lawsuit.

“The defendant, John Doe, failed to stop the Captain George despite becoming aware of the collision with the Plaintiff’s vessel after it had struck it, causing Plaintiff’s vessel to capsize, resulting in severe injuries to the plaintiff, including the risk of loss of life by drowning of him and his four passengers,” the civil complaint states.

The other two men and two boys in Belley’s boat were rescued by a whale watching boat — the Captain Lady III — that was nearby at the time.

Belley’s boat was eventually raised from the bottom, but it was totaled, according to Bratton, who said the damages for the boat alone total $100,000. Belley is also seeking repayment of medical expenses, lost wages, recovery and towing costs for the boat, and additional payments for emotional distress.

Bratton said the Coast Guard came to Lowell to interview Belley about the crash a short time afterward, but that the agency has yet to issue a report on the crash. A spokesman for the agency did not return a message seeking comment over the weekend.