TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A casino shuttle boat fire that killed one woman and injured 14 other people off Florida's Gulf Coast was caused by poor maintenance and the captain's failure to shut down the engine sooner, investigators said.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report this month outlining the factors that led to 42-year-old Carrie Dempsey's death and the destruction of the $450,000 boat. About 50 passengers jumped into the chilly waters off Port Richey in January when the Island Lady caught fire, officials said. It was heading to a Tropical Breeze casino boat in the Gulf of Mexico, where gambling is legal.
After receiving a high-temperature alarm on the port engine, the captain turned the Island Lady around to return to the dock, the report said. Smoke began filling parts of the boat, and the captain deliberately beached the vessel in shallow water near shore to evacuate the passengers.
Problems outlined in the NTSB report include lack of company guidance regarding engine high-temperature alarms, lack of fire detection in unmanned spaces, insufficient preventive maintenance and insufficient crew training.
The report specifically pointed out that the captain left the engine idling instead of shutting it off after receiving a high-temperature alarm. This allowed the overheating engine to continue to generate excessive heat, affecting the exhaust tubes and igniting their surrounding structures. Additionally, officials determined that the boat's fuel tanks were equipped with plastic hoses used as fuel level indicators, and the system didn't have automatic shut-off valves. This led to the plastic material melting and the release of diesel fuel exacerbating the fire.
Investigators also found that Tropical Breeze had implemented a preventive maintenance program after a previous fire on board another company vessel, but the quality of the program was insufficient. The report acknowledges, however, that preventive maintenance programs for small boats aren't required or enforced for by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The investigation found that crewmembers lacked sufficient understanding of firefighting principles, with training drills being infrequent or not completed.
A phone message left with Tropical Breeze wasn't immediately returned.