United States: One person dead after boat to offshore casino burns off Florida coast

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On Sunday, a boat ferrying people to a floating casino in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire and burned near New Port Richey, Florida, US. All 50 passengers aboard abandoned ship and jumped into the sea, but one died in hospital that evening.

Beth Fifer, assistant chief executive of the Tropical Breeze Casino Cruise, said that the fire started at about 3:30 PM, local time, as the boat was outbound to the casino. According to Gerard DeCanio, the police chief of Port Richey, the captain saw smoke coming from the engine and turned back, then grounded the boat in shallow water.

Location of New Port Richey, Florida
Image: Shereth. (Reuse terms.)

The boat was rapidly engulfed in flames. Those aboard had to jump about ten feet into waist-high water and swim or wade ashore to safety. The police said that about fifteen were treated at local hospitals, including for possible hypothermia from exposure to the cold sea water. The one fatality, a 42-year-old woman, went to the emergency room at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point hours later and died at 10:42 p.m., according to Kurt Conover, a spokesman for the medical center and Kevin Doll, a spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Passenger Qaadia Culbreath told WFLA-TV that he couldn't swim and didn't see any life jackets, so he found himself "dangling off the metal hanger in the front of the boat because I didn't want to let go". Andrew Fossa, deputy fire chief of Pasco County, described locals who assisted the passengers as they scrambled to shore as "phenomenal".

According to police chief DeCanio, the boat captain had reported engine trouble on earlier trips. Fifer said, "It would've never left the dock if we knew something was wrong with it." The Coast Guard has announced that they will review maintenance records. The casino operates offshore, requiring a boat to ferry gamblers to and fro, because casino gambling is not legal in the state of Florida.


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