Fire engulfs casino shuttle boat off Florida coast, 15 injured

A fire breaks out on a SunCruz casino boat at Port Richey, Florida, U,S, January 14, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media.

By Renita D. Young

NEW YORK (Reuters) – At least 15 people were injured when a fire engulfed a boat off the coast of Florida on Sunday, causing the 50 people aboard to jump into the Gulf of Mexico and swim to shore, local officials said.

A preliminary investigation showed the fire broke out at about 4:17 p.m. EST from an apparent engine issue, said Shawn Whited, division chief with Pasco Fire Rescue.

“The captain of the boat said there was an issue with the engine. He said he noticed smoke coming form the engine room and turned the boat around,” Whited said.

The 60-foot shuttle boat was on its way to the Sun Cruz Casino boat, a little more than three miles away in international waters. It had only made it about 100 yards from where it originated in Port Richey, about 30 miles north of downtown Tampa.

After seeing the smoke, the captain prompted the 50 people aboard the boat to abandon ship and swim to shore. Some of the injuries were from being in cold water and from smoke inhalation, said Whited.

The boat was “fully engulfed” in flames, said Dan Dede, a dispatch supervisor at Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Pasco Fire.

An official investigation will start soon, according to Whited. Several agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the City of Port Richey Fire Department and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, responded to the incident.

(Reporting by Renita D. Young; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Over 360 Missing In Chinese Boat Disaster

Disaster teams have recovered 77 bodies from a cruise ship that capsized in the Yangtze River during a storm.  At least 360 other victims of the disaster are still missing.

Authorities say that only 14 people survived the ship’s capsizing on Monday night.  They say some of those survivors jumped from the ship at the start of the storm and were able to swim to shore.  Three survived in an air pocket in the capsized ship until rescuers were able to hear them yelling for help and sent in divers to save them.

Transport Ministry spokesman Xu Chengguang said that the mission has moved from rescue of survivors to recovery of bodies.  The ship is going to be brought upright through steel bars under the ship and two 500 ton cranes.

Xu told reporters despite cutting holes in the ship to try and find survivors, the likelihood of anyone alive is “very slim.”

Xu said righting the vessel “will enable an audit of all the cabins to be carried out as quickly as possible and will be good for searching for the missing in the shortest period of time” and allow them to act to “preserve the dignity of the dead.”

The ship, the Eastern Star, reportedly contained mostly retirees who were viewing the vista along the river.

Government officials had previously cited the ship for safety infractions.  At one point in 2013, it was held from operation because of safety issues according to the maritime bureau.