NTSB releases results of fatal Pasco casino shuttle boat fire investigation

Pasco County
casino boat fire eagle 8_539347

The National Transportation Safety Board released the results of its investigation into the Tropical Breeze Casino shuttle boat fire that killed a woman on Jan. 13. 

The fire forced 50 people to jump for their lives off the coast of New Port Richey. Carrie Dempsey, 42, died after inhaling “products of combustion,” according to an autopsy report.

“This person who died was a single mother. She left behind a pair of twins, a boy and a girl who were 12-years-old, who now do not have parents,” said NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt during a board meeting on Tuesday.

“And here is a company that had the opportunity to learn from a tragedy in 2004. And they did absolutely nothing. And after it happened twice, what have they done? This is absolutely absurd.”

In the NTSB’s findings released Tuesday, the following safety issues were identified:

  • Lack of company guidance regarding engine high-temperature alarms: The captain did not shut down the engine after receiving the alarm, but kept it idling, which aided in starting the fire.
  • Lack of fire-detection in unmanned spaces with exhaust tubing
  • Insufficient preventive maintenance
  • Insufficient crew training and documentation: The investigation revealed crew members lacked sufficient understanding of firefighting principles and training drills were infrequent or not completed. 
  • Inappropriate material and design of fuel tank level-indicator system: Fuel tanks were equipped with plastic hoses and the system did not have automatic shutoff values, so during the fire, this plastic material melted and the release of diesel fuel exacerbated the fire.

The NTSB found that the captain’s decision to return the vessel to the dock after seeing the engine’s high-temperature alarm and his decision to beach the vessel when the smoke became overwhelming were prudent and increased the likelihood of survival for the passengers. 

“They went out to gamble but they did not expect to gamble with their lives. And that’s what happened,” said Sumwalt.

Click here to read the NTSB’s full report

The NTSB ruled the probable cause of the fire was Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz’s “ineffective
preventive maintenance program and insufficient guidance regarding the response to engine
high-temperature conditions, which resulted in the captain’s continued operation of an engine that
was overheating due to a cooling water pump failure, leading to ignition of the exhaust tubing and
surrounding structure.”

In a statement from Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz:

The safety and comfort of passengers and employees is, and has always been, Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz’ s first priority. Accordingly, Tropical Breeze fully cooperated with the NTSB’s and the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) investigation of the tragic fire on its shuttle vessel, the ISLAND LADY. As a small inspected passenger vessel, the ISLAND LADY was subject to multiple regulations and inspections by the USCG. At the time of the fire, the ISLAND LADY and its captain had passed all USCG inspections and were in compliance with all required licensure. In September of 2017, crew performed fire drills for the USCG and passed with flying colors.

Tropical Breeze is owned and operated by a small local family, who has been operating casino cruises in Florida for over thirty years. This fire was a tragedy for all persons involved. Tropical Breeze has reviewed the NTSB’s findings and recommendations and continues to do everything it can to ensure this never happens again. On June 13, 2018, crew for the TROPICAL BREEZE I, which was the same crew onboard the ISLAND LADY at the time of the fire, performed and passed all fire drills for the USCG, as part of its annual inspection. Tropical Breeze again offers its sincerest apologies and condolences to all affected by the fire.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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