The Tropical Breeze Casino company is responding to a scathing report submitted Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board involving a casino boat fire that killed one woman and injured 15 other passengers.
The company said in a statement sent Thursday morning, "The safety and comfort of passengers and employees is, and has always been, Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz's first priority. Accordingly, Tropical Breeze fully cooperated with the NTSB's and the United States Coast Guard's investigation of the tragic fire on its shuttle vessel, the Island Lady."
The NTSB found multiple factors contributed to that fire, including insufficient preventive maintenance, poor training of crew members, a lack of an onboard fire detection system and fuel lines made from the wrong material.
Back in January, more than 50 passengers and crew members jumped off the Island Lady, a shuttle to the Tropical Breeze Casino boat, to avoid being burned alive.
Now federal investigators say a failed cooling pump caused one of the boat's engines to overheat.
This melted plastic fuel lines, which caused diesel fuel to spill throughout the boat, which caught fire. The feds found that cooling pump was overdue for recommended maintenance.
On Tuesday, the NTSB also said the U.S. Coast Guard passed the boat on its most recent inspection, even though its fuel system was not in compliance. That’s because the lines in the fuel system were made of plastic. Records showed deck hands had received no training of what to do in case of a fire.
Tropical Breeze said in its statement, "As a small inspected passenger vessel, the Island Lady and its captain had passed all USCG inspections and were in compliance with all required licenses. In September of 2017, crew performed fire drills for the USCG and passed with flying colors."
42-year-old Carrie Dempsey, a mother of 12-year-old twins, died in the days after the fire. 15 other passengers were injured. There are now multiple civil lawsuits pending involving the tragedy.
"This fire was a tragedy for all persons involved. Tropical Breeze has reviewed the NTSB's findings and recommendations and continues to do everything it can to ensure this never happens again. Tropical Breeze again offers its sincerest apologies and condolences to all affected by the fire," the statement said.
Another shuttle boat owned by Tropical Breeze caught fire 13 years earlier, but investigators say the company never made recommended changes after that tragedy, or the most recent one.
"Here's a company that had the opportunity to learn from a tragedy in 2004 and they did absolutely nothing. And after it happened twice what have they done?” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “This is absolutely absurd.”
The NTSB recommended 15 years ago that the U.S. Coast Guard should require small passenger vessels, like that casino shuttle, to develop safety and preventive maintenance plans. But so far, those standards have not been put in place.
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