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U.S. woman rescued at sea with family sues satellite phone company

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A U.S. woman rescued with her family from a Pacific Ocean sailboat after her infant daughter became ill has filed suit against her satellite phone company for cutting off service, a move she said led the family to seek an emergency rescue and ultimately to scuttle their boat, her lawyers said on Tuesday.

The complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court by Charlotte Kaufman on Monday alleges that Whenever Communications LLC deactivated the family's satellite phone's SIM card even though the family's $240 a month bill had been paid in full since August 2012.

The April rescue of the family by the California Air National Guard and the U.S. Navy from their boat in the roiling Pacific Ocean triggered a maelstrom of criticism of the parents for taking their young children to sea.

Many critics called for the family to repay the rescue costs estimated at around $660,000, even as rescuers repeatedly declined to criticize the family after the rescue.

The Kaufmans - Charlotte, Eric and their two daughters, Lyra, 1, and Cora, 3, set sail on a 36-foot (11-meter) vessel headed to French Polynesia in March from Nayarit, Mexico, on a trip estimated to take between three and six weeks.

Armed with supplies including a satellite phone purchased in San Diego and an emergency rescue beacon, as well as food, water and antibiotics in case an ailment from which Lyra had recently recovered should recur - which it did.

When Lyra did not respond quickly to the antibiotics, the Kaufmans used the satellite phone to call a doctor. But they said that the company deactivated the phone in the interim, preventing them from getting a return call.

They say that as a result, they were forced to activate their emergency rescue beacon - knowing that rescuers would require the family to sink the boat they had called home since 2007, according to the complaint.

Representatives from the satellite company did not immediately return calls seeking comment, and the U.S. Coast Guard declined comment.

Although the legal filing names the state and federal rescuers, the complaint makes clear that it is only because the law requires they be named as "indispensable parties."

The complaint invites both the U.S. Navy, the Coast Guard and the California Air National Guard to join in the suit to recover costs of the rescue, which the family says would not have been necessary had their satellite phone worked.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)

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