The Ryan's Commander was smashed against rocks near Cape Bonavista in September 2004. ((CBC))

Crew negligence led to the 2004 Ryan's Commander tragedy, according to court documents filed on behalf of the company that built the controversial ship.

Owners Joe and Dave Ryan were killed when their new vessel capsized in heavy seas off Cape Bonavista, on Newfoundland's northeast coast, in September 2004.

A Transportation Safety Board investigation released in November concluded the top-heavy vessel capsized because of design problems and poor handling.

Ryan family members are suing Transport Canada, the ship's architects and shipbuilder Universal Marine.

In a statement of defence filed with Newfoundland Supreme Court, Triton-based Universal Marine said the longliner was stable when the Ryans took delivery.

The company argues the vessel sank because of the actions of the crew. The statement of defence says the crew failed to head into gale-force winds, and that they should have changed course after the boat rolled about 35 degrees twice before actually tipping over.

The statement also said the Ryan brothers were negligent when they decided to sail unlawfully with a captain who did not have the proper qualifications.

As well, the company said the Ryans should have accepted Universal's recommendation to put concrete ballast in the ship because it would have increased stability.

Italso said the Ryans should not have refused the recommended stability tests.

Four crew members were rescuedin thedisaster, which put a spotlight on vessel stability in Newfoundland and Labrador's changing fishery. Because of declining inshore stocks, many fishermen are building larger and wider vessels that can accommodate longer trips farther from shore.

Universal Marine owner Robert Starkes declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Court documents say the company believes Transport Canada officials should not have licensed the vessel without the recommended stability data.

The company is asking the Newfoundland Supreme Court to dismiss the Ryan family's claim, and wants the Ryans to pay the company's legal fees, as well as about $85,000 it says is still outstanding for the construction of the Ryan's Commander.