By Jack Sullivan
Boston Globe

A $4.5 million lawsuit, the first of several expected legal actions, was filed in federal court yesterday against the owners of the missing New Bedford fishing vessel Atlantis. The complaint charges the owners of the boat with negligence and claims the boat was not seaworthy.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Rosa Barroqueiro, the wife of Francisco Barroqueiro, 32, captain of the ill-fated fishing trawler. It seeks $3 million for the loss she and her two children suffered, $1 million in punitive damages and $500,000 for the alleged pain and suffering of Francisco Barroqueiro.

The 72-foot stern trawler was last seen more than three weeks ago 45 miles southeast of Nantucket. The owners reported the Atlantis missing on Oct. 30, and a massive air and sea search by the Coast Guard, covering nearly 100,000 square miles, failed to find any trace of the boat.

Michael Latti, a Boston marine lawyer representing Rosa Barroqueiro, said even though no bodies have been found and a final determination as to what happened has yet to be made, there is little hope the crew will be found alive.

“There is a presumption when the Coast Guard gives up the search that these men are lost and dead,” Latti said yesterday. “With that presumption, that triggers the filing of a lawsuit.”

Antonio Pedrosa, one of the Atlantis’ owners, did not return calls for comment yesterday. A man answering the telephone at the company’s office said he was not aware of the suit.

Barroqueiro had been captain of the Atlantis for about a year. A native of Cape Verde, Barroqueiro also had experience captaining fishing boats off the African coast before coming to the United States. In addition to Barroqueiro, four other men an missing. They are John Barros, 43; Joaquim Caseiro, 59; Edgar P. Lobo. 35; and Antonio DePinno. All five, including Barroqueiro, are from the New Bedford area.

Investigators have said there are few clues as to what may have happened to the boat. Coast Guard officials and others familiar with the Atlantis have told the Globe that the emergency position-indicating radio beacon may have been stored in the pilot house, contrary to federal law, preventing the safety device from floating free and sending a distress signal. Investigators also have said the life raft may have been secured by ropes, preventing its quick release.

Latti said yesterday that he has some knowledge of possible safety violations, but would not reveal what they are. Latti also indicated he intends to prove that the vessel “turned turtle” before sinking. The phrase is used to describe what happens when a boat is topheavy and rolls over upside down in the water, trapping anybody who may be below deck.