Duck boats resume operations in Philadelphia

With a new safety plan that requires staying onshore if a deep-draft vessel or a tug and barge is within one-half nautical mile, duck boats resumed operations Thursday on the Delaware River in Philadelphia for the first time since a fatal accident last July.

The duck boats’ operating area has been reduced by two-thirds, and the boats will be on the water “no longer than 15 minutes versus 20 to 25 minutes in the past,” Ride The Ducks spokesman Bob Salmon earlier told Boat tours last around 70 minutes, according to the company’s Website.

The safety plan also includes: a response boat with twin 135-hp motors on standby to tow a disabled duck boat; continuous monitoring of engines for abnormalities on hot days; Automated Identification Systems (AIS) on all vessels; more training for captains and deckhands; and distribution of the noisy “quackers” only at the end of the tour.
“We have increased emergency communications equipment, adding a third air horn and a second VHF radio to every vehicle in our fleet,” Ride The Ducks president Chris Herschend said in announcing the resumption in operations.

Ride The Ducks “agreed to address our concerns,” said Capt. Todd Gatlin, deputy commander of the Coast Guard’s Delaware Bay sector, which signed off on the company’s operations plan.

“If a large vessel is approaching their route either upriver or downriver, they would wait until it clears,” Gatlin said. That should keep large vessels and duck boats apart.

The tour boat involved in last summer’s accident anchored in the river after the captain saw smoke coming from an engine compartment vent and shut all systems down. It sank after its stern was struck by the bow of the city’s 250’ sludge barge The Resource being towed by the 75’ tug Caribbean Sea operated by K-Sea Transportation Partners, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Two people on the duck boat died and 10 were injured.

The tug mate who was on watch was dealing with a family crisis by phone at the time of the accident, NTSB reports show. The agency found that distress calls from the duck boat and others went unanswered by the tug. No cause has been given for the smoke from the duck boat.

The NTSB’s final report is due out this summer.

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