One dead after Florida casino shuttle boat fire

One passenger died after she and more than 50 others jumped from a flaming casino shuttle boat Sunday near Port Richey, Fla., local authorities said.

The shuttle, the 72’x21’x6.5′ Island Girl, had embarked from Port Richey on its regularly scheduled 3:30 p.m. run to the Tropical Breeze, a casino boat anchored in the Gulf of Mexico outside the three-mile Florida state waters limit where gambling is legal. When smoke started coming from the engine room the captain turned around, but as the fire broke out he headed for shallows near Harbor Point in the Port Richey canal around 4:15 p.m.

The boat became engulfed in flames, and videos by witnesses showed passengers jumping from the bow rail into the water, where police and firefighters helped them to shore. All the passengers and crew escaped without life-threatening injuries, police said.

About a dozen passengers were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, chest pains or minor injuries. But one passenger, a 42-year-old woman, was later taken to a hospital emergency room and died, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department.

Hypothermia was a danger for survivors as temperatures were unseasonably cold in the Tampa Bay region — with air temperatures as low as 43 degrees Sunday and the water temperature at 59 degrees. The incident brought a large air and sea response by the Coast Guard and local authorities, and the Coast Guard and Pasco County sheriff’s officers are investigating the fire.

Built in 1994, the wooden hulled Island Girl was operated by a ferry company associated with the Tropical Breeze casino, ABK Enterprises, Inc., Port Richey. Inspected under Subchapter T, the vessel was last documented in October 2017, according to Coast Guard records. The fire left a grounded hulk burned to the waterline for investigators to examine.

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