This past Sunday, another fire onboard a passenger ship occurred, this one off the coast of Port Richey, which is just north of Tampa, Florida. The fire broke about a half a mile from shore on a shuttle boat operated by Tropical Breeze Casino, causing all of the 50 passengers and crew members to jump overboard and swim to shore. There were over a dozen passengers who were reported to have been injured and a 42-year-old woman who was killed.
The 60-foot shuttle boat was on its way to the Tropical Breeze Casino Boat (a company also known as SunCruz at one time) when the captain noticed smoke. After noticing the smoke, the captain turned the boat back to shore. On his way back, the boat started having engine problems, which had been reported even before the accident in question. The captain then ordered all 50 people on board to abandon the ship and swim to shore. There was no time to even hand out life jackets. The water, which was 59-degrees at the time, combined with the Gulf breeze actually created a risk of hypothermia for the passengers, some of whom were found face down in the water and would have died had the rescue efforts not been so prompt.
The cause of the fire has not yet been learned. However, according to recent reports, the company has had safety issues for many years. There have been about 29 investigations involving boats associated with their casino boat operation. This included another fire on one of its shuttle boats in 2004, which was caused by poor maintenance and insufficient training.
My Miami-based maritime firm has handled many cases involving cruise ship fires. We have recently concluded our handling of the tragic deaths of the passengers onboard a river boat cruise in Peru. The deaths occurred as a result of a fire that broke onboard a river boat cruise on the Amazon River. We have also previously represented hundreds of family members who lost their loved ones during a fire that broke out on the Scandinavian Star. The fire was due to many safety deficiencies such as an insufficiently trained crew and a lack of appropriate lighting to help illuminate an escape route for passengers.
Cruise ship fires are a real threat to safety onboard ships and there are many international and local laws, as well as treaties and regulations addressing fire safety matters. Under maritime law the ship owner must exercise reasonable care for the safety of their passengers, and a violation of that duty provides compensation for injuries and deaths under maritime law. Unlike a fire on land, a fire on the water poses unique threats as the only way to escape is by jumping in the water. Luckily in this case, the boat was not too far from shore. In other cases, it is not this type of scenario.
We have no additional information at this time regarding what measures were taken onboard the shuttle boat. We will continue to monitor this serious occurrence and report of the findings as to the cause and what could of have done to have prevented yet another maritime tragedy.