The federal agency investigating the sinking of a duck boat in Missouri last year that killed 17 people said the Coast Guard ignored warnings that it should adopt more-stringent safety requirements for the amphibious craft.
The agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, criticized the Coast Guard’s oversight of duck boat operations in a 14-page report released Wednesday, saying it had warned of safety hazards for two decades before the Stretch Duck 7 capsized near Branson, Mo., in July 2018.
Seventeen of the boat’s 31 passengers died after the amphibious landing craft, a World War II military relic that could operate on land and water, overturned in Table Rock Lake during a thunderstorm that produced winds of over 60 miles per hour. The accident was one of the deadliest involving the touring vessels in United States history.
The N.T.S.B. said it had pushed for the Coast Guard to require duck boats to have more watertight spaces above the waterline, known as reserve buoyancy, and to remove obstructions such as overhead canopies that could hamper an evacuation.
The agency made its recommendations after the 1999 sinking of another duck boat, near Hot Springs, Ark., in which 13 people died.
“Lives could have been saved, and the Stretch Duck 7 accident could have been prevented had previously issued safety recommendations been implemented,” Robert L. Sumwalt, the N.T.S.B. chairman, said in a statement Wednesday.
The N.T.S.B. said only 13 of the 22 recommendations relating to duck boats that it had made since 1999 had been followed, and that there was no action or an inadequate response to the remaining nine recommendations.
“Twenty years later, the same risk exists on these vessels, and that is unacceptable,” Mr. Sumwalt said. “It is imperative that the United States Coast Guard adopt these lifesaving recommendations now.”
The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to phone and email requests for comment Wednesday, but a Coast Guard spokesman, Lt. Amy Midgett, told The Associated Press that the Coast Guard had issued guidance in 2000 that urged its inspectors and vessel owners to evaluate canopy design and installation.
She said the Coast Guard had advised them to “evaluate the design and installation of seats, deck rails, windshields, and windows as a system to ensure the overall arrangement did not restrict the ability of passengers to escape.”
The Coast Guard also “emphasized the importance of carefully evaluating proposed routes and anticipated environmental conditions and imposing appropriate safety measures and operational restrictions,” Lieutenant Midgett said.
According to the N.T.S.B, there have been 37 deaths and 104 injuries resulting from six accidents in the United States involving duck boats, which are popular in cities like Boston and Seattle.
Nine members of the same family and five children were among the 17 people who died when the Stretch Duck 7 capsized. Eight minutes passed between when bilge alarms first sounded, alerting passengers and crew that the boat was taking on water, and when the duck boat sank, according to the N.T.S.B., which is still conducting its investigation.
The vessel was operated by Ride the Ducks Branson, owned by Ripley Entertainment, which federal court records showed had settled 30 of 31 lawsuits filed on behalf of the accident’s victims. The company said on Wednesday that it was reviewing the N.T.S.B. report.
“Branson Ride the Ducks continues to cooperate with the N.T.S.B. and all investigative authorities as they determine the facts surrounding the unprecedented storm and resulting accident on Table Rock Lake,” Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a Ripley Entertainment spokeswoman, said in an email.
“As we have from the beginning, we are dedicated to working with the community of Branson, and continuing our support of the families and employees who were impacted by the accident,” she said.
A federal grand jury indicted the boat’s captain, Kenneth Scott McKee, last November, charging him with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty by a ship’s officer resulting in death.
The indictment accused Mr. McKee of failing to adequately assess the weather conditions before setting out on the tour, not immediately heading to shore when the storm approached and neglecting to tell passengers to put on their life vests. Mr. McKee pleaded not guilty.
Two other duck tour employees, Curtis P. Lanham, the general manager, and Charles V. Baltzell, the operations supervisor, were indicted in June for their role in the accident. They also pleaded not guilty.
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