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I-Team: Casino cruise company involved in deadly fire previously investigated dozens of times

I-Team: Cruise company previously investigated
Posted at 8:37 AM, Jan 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-16 08:37:24-05

PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- There are plenty of questions surrounding a fire that broke out on a casino shuttle boat Sunday. 

As the investigation begins, The I-Team has been looking into prior issues involving that casino cruise operation.

Most evenings, the casino ship is nine miles out in the Gulf of Mexico in international waters where casino gambling is allowed.

Cruise boat shuttle catches fire, 1 dead, 49 rescued from Gulf of Mexico

One dead, 14 injured after casino shuttle boat carrying 50 catches fire in Port Richey

Now, it is docked in Port. The office is closed. And the operators of the business are not yet answering questions.

The scene Sunday was horrifying.

Fifty passengers en route to the Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz jumped from a shuttle boat that was on fire into the frigid Gulf.

"There were a couple of seniors that were face down in the water when we first arrived on the scene," said Port Richey Police Office Jason Zimmerman.

As passengers swam ashore, neighbors helped with towels and blankets.

15 people were taken to the hospital, where a 42-year-old woman died.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are now investigating the cause of the fire.

The I-Team has discovered it's far from the first time the Coast Guard has investigated the cruise operation.

We logged onto their incident database, which showed there have been at least 29 investigations involving boats associated with the facility.

Five times boats have crashed or run aground, three times there were investigations into discharges into the water, five times, there were investigations into deaths or injuries of passengers on board and there were 13 investigations into maintenance and mechanical issues, including three prior fires.

One of those was in 2004, when a shuttle boat caught fire.

Three crew members on board were rescued by a passing boater.

The NTSB investigation found that fuel lines failed multiple times in prior months and that Paradise Cruises, which operates the marina, didn't have a preventative maintenance program. 

"They've had issues for numerous years, and it just continues," said Linda Powers.

She says she regularly gambled on the boat until it broke down while she was on board, leaving her stranded in the Gulf for hours. 

Dorothy Rutkowski who travels to Florida for the winter, says she was on the shuttle last Thursday when it ran aground and got stuck during heavy fog.

She says the captain had to rev the engine multiple times to get it moving again. 

If you have information about the incident or the cruise operation you'd like to share with the I-Team, contact us at