NTSB Faults U.S. Coast Guard’s Failure to Implement Prior Safety Recommendations in Fatal Duck Boat Sinking

duck boat tragedy
A duck boat is seen at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, U.S., July 19, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. Ron Folsom/via REUTERS

The National Transportation Safety Board is faulting the U.S. Coast Guard for failing to implement previous-issued safety recommendations related to the operation of so-called “duck boats” as a contributing factor in the high death toll of last year’s fatal duck boat sinking on Table Rock Lake, Missouri in which seventeen people were killed. 

As part of its ongoing investigation of the fatal July 19, 2018 accident involving a modified WWII DUKW amphibious passenger vessel, the NTSB on Wednesday issued a Marine Safety Recommendation Report (19/01) calling on the U.S. Coast Guard to require sufficient reserve buoyancy for DUKW amphibious passenger vessels, and to require the removal of canopies, side curtains and their associated framing, while underway, for those without sufficient reserve buoyancy. 

Seventeen of the 31 people aboard the DUKW Stretch Duck 7 were killed when the vessel sank during a rapidly-developing storm on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri.

While the investigation of the sinking is ongoing and probable cause has not yet been determined, the NTSB said information gained through the investigation warranted Wednesday’s issuance of the safety recommendation report before the investigation is completed.

Since the 1999 fatal accident involving the Miss Majestic DUKW, the NSTB has issued a total of 22 safety recommendations related to modified WWII-era DUKW passenger vessels. Among those, only nine have been implemented fully by the Coast Guard. 

“Lives could have been saved, and the Stretch Duck 7 accident could have been prevented had previously issued safety recommendations been implemented,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “The NTSB’s 1999 investigation of the another DUKW, the Miss Majestic, also identified the lack of reserve buoyancy and the dangers of canopies as safety issues.  In 2008, recommendations from that accident addressing these safety issues were classified ‘Closed-Unacceptable Action’ due largely to inaction. Twenty years later, the same risk exists on these vessels, and that is unacceptable,” said Sumwalt. “It is imperative that the United States Coast Guard adopt these life-saving recommendations now.”  

Among those 22 safety recommendations, nine have been implemented, while four were pending and classified open – acceptable response, and the remaining nine had not been implemented and were classified open – unacceptable response, closed – unacceptable action or closed – unacceptable action/no response received

“Safety recommendation M-00-5 addressed the need for DUKWs to have adequate reserve buoyancy but was classified closed – unacceptable action/no response received, eight years after its issuance,” the NTSB said in a statement announcing Wednesday’s Marine Safety Recommendation Report. 

“The NTSB believes the failure to implement previous safety recommendations related to reserve buoyancy for DUKWs contributed to the sinking of the Stretch Duck 7. Similarly, the failure to implement the previously issued recommendation concerning fixed canopies, following the fatal, 1999 Miss Majestic DUKW accident, likely increased the number of fatalities resulting from Stretch Duck 7 sinking,” the statement said. 

The NTSB will issue a determination of probable cause for this accident when the investigation concludes.

Marine Safety Recommendation Report 19/01 is available at https://go.usa.gov/xpBx4.