A fire that broke out aboard a Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz shuttle boat in Fort Richey, Florida, last year was the result of a deficient maintenance program and a lack of guidance in responding to high-temperature warning indicators, federal investigators said.
On Jan. 14, 2018, the casino shuttle boat, a 72-foot-long vessel named the Island Lady, was transporting 53 people to the Tropical Breeze Casino boat about nine miles out in the Gulf of Mexico in international waters when a fire broke out onboard.
With the casino shuttle filling with smoke, the captain managed to turn the vessel around and beach it near Port Ritchey. Flames quickly engulfed the boat as passengers and crew jumped into the frigid waters and waded to shore.
Fifteen of the boat’s occupants were injured in the fire and evacuation, including one who died several hours later in the hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that while the shuttle boat fire was not a major marine accident, it investigated the incident because in 2004 a similar fire broke out on board the Express Shuttle II, another of the vessels operated by Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz.
According to the NTSB, Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz’s lack of guidance regarding engine high-temperature alarms led the captain to leave the port engine idling when it should have been shut down. Because the engine kept running, it overheated and started on fire.
The shuttle boat also lacked a fire detection and suppression system in an unmanned part of the boat containing engine exhaust tubing, which prevented the early detection of a fire and slowed the response to it.
The NTSB also found that Tropical Breeze failed to follow the engine manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and thus failed to catch a mechanical failure in the engine pump, which caused the engine and exhaust tubing to overheat.
Investigators said that other configurations of the shuttle boat’s engine and exhaust system allowed a release of diesel fuel, which fed the flames and intensified the fire. Additionally, the boat’s crew was inadequately trained to fight fires.
The NTSB did credit the shuttle boat captain’s decision to turn the vessel around, which increased the likelihood for survival of those on board.