Following the appalling recent tragedy that led to multiple fatalities, a private contractor hired to inspect the fleet of “Ride the Ducks” tour boats in Branson, Missouri has raised questions about several design features that may have posed a potential safety hazard.
Steven Paul, an ex-Army diesel mechanic and private marine surveyor, told CNN that he conducted a pre-sale inspection of the Branson based Ride the Ducks fleet last year. He described a series of potential issues with the vessels and said that he had informed the new operator in a written report.
“One of the most prominent things I found was the exhaust being in front of the vessel, which according to Department of Transportation standards would not pass regulation,” he told CNN. During the accident voyage, he said, “the ship was taking heavy waves to the front end. With the exhaust coming out the front and going down below the water line, the waves are obviously pushing water up in that exhaust.”
Water entering the exhaust could potentially stop the boat’s engine, leaving it unable to manoeuvre, Paul said.
The Ride the Ducks boats operated by franchisees in several American cities have gone through multiple design iterations over the past decade, and Paul did not specify which model(s) he inspected last year.
Separately, investigators are examining the operator’s decisionmaking process for sailing in rough weather. A strong line of thunderstorms brought winds of up to 65 miles per hour and waves of up to five feet on the day of the accident voyage, increasing the risk that the boat would ship water over the bulwarks. Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Tasha Sadowicz told the Kansas City Star that the agency would be examining company policies and crew decision making surrounding weather conditions.