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February 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Sun Diver Loses Another Diver

from the February, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We’ve written many times about the lawsuit that diver Daniel Carlock brought against the Sun Diver, a 43-foot dive boat out of Long Beach, CA, that left him floating for five hours off the coast of Newport Beach in 2004 until a boat full of Boy Scouts happened to spot him (a jury awarded him $1.68 million in 2010). Does its owners face a second lawsuit now for leaving another diver behind?

Laurel Silver-Valker jumped off the Sun Diver at 9:35 a.m. on December 29 to dive for lobsters below Ship Rock off Catalina Island, and hasn’t been seen since. Silver-Valker, 45, was a regular on Sun Diver trips, even volunteering as a crew member on trips. At first, the dive seemed to be going well. A post on the Sun Diver’s Facebook page at 10:06 a.m. that day shows two photos of Ship Rock, and the caption, “Gorgeous day and a full boat!” Then the Sun Diver left Ship Rock and went to a different site before realizing Silver-Valker was not on board. The boat returned to Ship Rock to do a search but around noon, the captain called the Coast Guard to report Silver-Valker missing.

Rescue teams have continued that search for more than two weeks, with as many as 30 divers searching Ship Rock at once, but nothing. Police have classified Silver-Valker as a missing person; they don’t know whether she had trouble while diving or resurfaced to find the Sun Diver had left her behind. The U.S. Coast Guard is also doing its own investigation.

Ken Kurtis, who leads dive trips in that area via his Beverly Hills dive operator, Reef Seekers, says, “Given the underwater terrain of Ship Rock, which basically is a steep-ish slope into very deep water (far beyond recreational limits), it’s certainly possible and even likely that currents and water motion over time since the accident have moved her into deeper water. Also, rescue teams have done numerous searches and circumnavigations of the dive site with the assumption being that they’ve literally covered every inch underwater and would have found her if she was still there to be found. Until she’s located, any details surrounding what happened will remain a mystery.”

The Orange County Register wrote that Sundiver International, the company that owns the Sun Diver, lost the right to conduct business in California nearly four years ago due to tax issues. According to the Franchise Tax Board, it has unfiled tax returns and $3,991 in unpaid taxes, so it suspended Sundiver International on Feb. 1, 2012.

“When a company is suspended, they are not supposed to be engaged in any business,” says Melissa Marsh, a Los Angeles attorney who helps revive suspended companies. “They are not allowed to collect any money. The banks have a right to close their accounts.” Suspended businesses also are not allowed to defend themselves in court, according to California code.

That restriction could become particularly troublesome for the Sun Diver’s owners after what happened to Silver-Valker.

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