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April 13, 2009

Patriot crew's family to sue tug owner

The owners of the ocean-going tug Gulf Service will face a suit for causing the deaths of Capt. Matteo Russo and his father-in-law John Orlando aboard the fishing vessel Patriot, which sank under mysterious circumstances in early January.

Joseph Abromowitz, attorney for the estate of the late Capt. Matteo Russo, 36, and his pregnant widow Josie, said yesterday he has begun the process of suing Louisiana-based Hornbeck Offshore Services, a publicly traded leader in the tank-barge industry that specializes in moving petroleum between ports.

The 126-foot-long Gulf Service was built in 1979 and is rated for 3,900 horsepower, according to the 2007 annual report for the $1 billion company.

"I have notified them of a claim being made and it will be prosecuted," Abromowitz told the Times in a telephone interview yesterday.

Josie Russo declined comment, referring questions to Arbomowitz. Pregnant with the couple's second child, Josie Russo also lost her father John Orlando, 59, who had been the mate, when the Patriot sank.

Sam Giberga, chief counsel for Hornbeck, could not be reached yesterday.

In earlier interviews, Giberga has acknowledged that the Gulf Service, a 130-foot behemoth, was the vessel the Coast Guard had investigated for a possible role in the tragedy, said the company and the crew had cooperated, and that there was no reason to believe the tug had been involved.

The Coast Guard investigation into the sinking remains incomplete, according to its public information officials. A second investigation into the search-and-rescue operation, which was delayed for more than two hours from the first signal of trouble, was also said to be ongoing.

Less than a week after the Patriot — a steel-hulled boat that had been recently reconditioned and outfitted with optional communications technology — was lost about 15 miles from port on Middle Bank in the early morning hours of Jan. 3, the Coast Guard announced that an unidentified tug towing a barge had been in the vicinity and was a vessel of interest.

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