National News

Boat Catches Fire While Carrying Dozens to Floating Casino Off Florida

Posted January 14, 2018 11:26 p.m. EST

A shuttle boat carrying 50 people to a casino boat off Florida’s Gulf Coast caught fire Sunday afternoon, forcing passengers to jump overboard to escape the fast-moving flames, the authorities said.

All 50 passengers got off the vessel before flames consumed it around 4 p.m., but emergency workers had to wade into the cold waters about 25 miles northwest of Tampa, Florida, to rescue about 15 people who had not made it ashore, the police said. About a dozen people were treated for exposure, anxiety and other minor injuries, said Chief Gerard DeCanio of the Port Richey Police Department.

DeCanio said quick thinking by the shuttle boat’s captain helped avoid a disaster. Shortly after the vessel left the dock, the captain spotted smoke spewing from the engine room and decided to turn around. But the fire rapidly grew, so the captain steered the boat toward the shore, allowing passengers to jump off into shallow water, DeCanio said.

“Another quarter-mile out, this would have been a tragedy,” he said.

The Sun Cruz shuttle boat makes several trips daily from Port Richey to a casino boat about 3 1/2 miles offshore, in international waters where gambling is legal.

Photos and videos posted on social media showed big flames coming off the vessel and passengers swimming in the water. DeCanio said the captain almost ran the boat aground as he tried to get close to the shore.

“They actually walked to the shore,” he said. “They were lucky no one was seriously hurt.”