The search for two young men lost to the Gulf of Mexico will resume at first light on Thursday morning, more than 36 hours since they were last seen.
First mate Andrew Dillman is being called a hero after he jumped into the choppy waters off the Pass-A-Grille Channel to try and save stranded swimmer Jie Luo.
Luo, 21, a foreign exchange student from China, was one of five students that jumped into the water without life jackets on. Luo was not able to swim back to the boat.
As Captain Todd Davis helped the other 4 students back on board, Dillman jumped in to help Luo.
Both have not been seen since.
“Certainly, Dillman tried to be a hero. Tried to rescue this kid. And tried to help and probably at his own peril, and has put himself in great jeopardy,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
The local chapter of the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Commission and even private citizens and other agencies helped search for Dillman and Luo since they went out of sight on Tuesday evening.
Search teams say they aren’t giving up hope the men could be alive.
“It is very sad, there is no need for that, in my opinion,” Captain Dan Peretz tells ABC Action News. “Accidents can happen. And they do. That one could've been prevented.”
Peretz owns Dolphin Landings Charter Boat Center. He said all of his vessels are Coast Guard Certified. He undergoes stringent inspections every single year to be able to take passengers on the water. Peretz said the boat carrying Dillman and Luo does not have a Coast Guard inspection certificate.
ABC Action News investigated his claim and found, according to the United States Coast Guard's (USCG) vessel data base, the Jaguar is registered as a recreational boat.
According to the Coast Guard:
A vessel not subject to inspection by the Coast Guard under 46 USC 3301, less than 100 GTs:
Carrying no more than six passengers, including at least one passenger for hire, or Chartered with the crew provided by the owner or owner’s representative, and carrying six or fewer passengers. 46 USC 2101(42)(B).
Peretz said he has complained to the Coast Guard multiple times since 2014 that the Jaguar was chartering their boat with a lot more than 6 people at a time. In some instances, Peretz said he called the Coast Guard to report there were 30 to 50 people on board the luxury yacht.
“There doesn't seem to be any enforcement there,” Peretz said.
Photos of the boat at Gasparilla, posted to social media, show dozens of passengers onboard.
“It causes loss of life, or serious injury, and a black eye on the industry as a whole,” Peretz said. “They (Coast Guard) should do more and part of the reason is this is the Tampa Bay Area and we are one of the largest concentrations of charter boats in the area. It's also one of the strictest for the charter vessels that are Coast Guard inspected, relative to other areas. That's ok we don't mind jumping through the extra hoops. They’d (un-inspected vessels) rather ask for forgiveness, instead of permission.”
Peretz said it takes a lot of time and money to be Coast Guard certified, and if the rules on passenger maximums aren’t enforced, there's no reason to follow the rules.
We asked the Coast Guard to comment on the concerns raised by Peretz. They told us their main focus was the search and rescue of the two men missing at sea. And would investigate further once the search is over.
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