On Wednesday last week, on the Delaware River, a sightseeing boat was hit by a large tug boat pulling a barge. The tour boat tilted over and sank in 55 feet of water and 37 people were thrown overboard. Rescue workers were unable to find two of them until later, when the bodies were found. Ten people were taken to hospital but injuries were minor. Most people had life vests on.
The two missing people are a girl of 16 and a young man of 20, both Hungarians and members of a church group that was taking a sightseeing tour on the boat. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting a full investigation into why this accident happened.
About ten minutes before the collision, the tour boat had experienced an engine problem and the ship’s master had anchored it to wait for help. The crew has said that they made radio calls to the 75-foot tug boat, the Caribbean Sea, but received no answers. Several people who had been operating boats in this area have told investigators that they heard the radio calls and apparently some of them were recorded. The NTSB is checking into this.
The Caribbean Sea apparently did not see the tour boat and the barge’s bow hit it, sinking it immediately. The 250-foot barge was unmanned and loaded with sewage, bound for a recycling center.
What is a Duck Boat?
The tour boat was a “Duck boat” – a name derived from the military acronym DUKW that it bore during World War II. They are amphibious, being both trucks and boats, and were reconditioned for peacetime use. This one’s name was DUKW 34 and it was owned by a company called Ride the Ducks. It was carrying 35 passengers and two crew members when it sank.
Ride the Ducks immediately suspended its Philadelphia operations and later suspended operations nationwide while it looks into this fatal accident. Other duck boats, such as at Stone Mountain Park, were also suspended and underwent maintenance reviews, but are now back in operation.
Many Remaining Questions
One of the five crew members of the Caribbean Sea has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and has so far refused to meet with NTSB investigators. He is the Caribbean Sea’s mate. NTSB has interviewed the engineer, one deckhand, and the master. The other deckhand was asleep when the accident happened and has not been interviewed.
As this story develops, no doubt investigators will discover why the accident happened, including why the tour boat had an engine problem, whether its crew radioed the tug boat, and if they did, why the tug boat crew did not answer. Also, why that crew did not see the tour boat. There may be wrongful death claims filed at some point.
Maritime workers are not covered by workers’ compensation – they are covered either by the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Please see our pages on Maritime Law and the Jones Act for more information.