Port Richey police and Pasco County Fire Rescue firefighter/paramedics responded about 4:00 p.m. Sunday January 14, 2018 to a report of a boat on fire with passengers jumping into the water in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. A Sun Cruz casino boat shuttle caught fire, forcing passengers and crew to jump overboard as the vessel was rapidly consumed with flames. All passengers aboard were treated by paramedics.
UPDATE: One female passenger has died hours after the incident.
Pasco County Sheriff’s Office patrol, marine and air units, Florida Fish and Wildlife officers and the US Coast Guard also responded and discovered all passengers off of the burning boat in water nearby. Port Richey police officer Jason Zimmerman said a couple seniors were face down in the water when police arrived on scene. Shawn Whited with Pasco County Fire Rescue said about 50 passengers and crew were on board the vessel. Most were able to wade to shore. Others were rescued by other crews on boats and rescue workers who jumped into the water. Residents in Port Richey brought towels, blankets and jackets from their homes to help passengers recover from the chilly waters. Port Richey is located just north of Tampa, Florida.
About 12 people were treated for exposure, anxiety and other minor injuries, according to Chief Gerard DeCanio of the Port Richey Police Department. He credited the ship’s captain for preventing a disaster because the captain turned the boat back to shore when he spotted smoke spewing from the engine room. With the fire growing rapidly, the captain steered the boat toward shore, allowing passengers to jump off into shallow water about 100 yards from shore.
The Sun Cruz shuttle boat makes several trips daily from the city of Port Richey to a larger casino boat about three and a half miles offshore. The larger boat is located in international waters where gambling is legal.
The casino shuttle boat burned completely to the hull, according to Pasco County Fire Rescue. High onshore winds fanned flames.
The cause of the fire was not immediately determined.
— Howard Altman (@haltman) January 15, 2018
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