PORT RICHEY A casino shuttle boat headed into the Gulf of Mexico caught fire Sunday, forcing 50 passengers to jump into chilly water just off a residential neighborhood. The captain of the shuttle said he noticed engine trouble and saw flames coming from the engine room.
"What he did was he brought (the shuttle) closer to shore, actually nearly beaching the boat", DeCanio said of the captain's immediate actions, according to Tampa station WTSP.
Pasco County marine patrol and helicopter along with the Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission assisted in the rescue operation.
There was no immediate reports on whether there were any injuries or on the extent or the cause of the fire. As the vessel turned back, flames kicked up and people began jumping overboard into shallow water, according to witness accounts.
"All of us, my family and the neighbors, brought them towels and water", Jandali said. Some were able to make it to shore and treated by emergency personnel.
DeCanio says the shuttle boat was rapidly consumed by fire. Local residents then offered them towels, socks and water to drink.
Nobody was killed. About a dozen people were hospitalized with minor injuries, according to authorities. A Coast Guard inspection two weeks before that 2004 fire failed to detect loose or missing clamps on the boat's diesel fuel lines, a problem later blamed as a precursor to the fire.
The shuttle ferries passengers to and from the actual Tropical Breeze casino boat, which is anchored in the Gulf of Mexico three miles off the coast in global waters, officials said.