SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A casino boat ran aground on rocks off the coast of Georgia overnight and remained stranded hours after daybreak Wednesday, with Coast Guard crews awaiting high tide to attempt to remove the 123 people aboard.
No injuries or medical issues had been reported among the 96 passengers and 27 crew members aboard the Escapade, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony L. Soto said.
The 174-foot-long boat was about 1.8 miles off the north end of Tybee Island, a popular beach destination east of Savannah, in the Calibogue Sound near Hilton Head, South Carolina, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard received reports that the vessel had run aground around midnight Tuesday, Soto said. At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Soto said the vessel was stable. By that time, a 25-foot Coast Guard response boat was in the area, a tow company had been contacted and another passenger vessel was on standby in case it’s needed to help remove passengers, Soto said.
He said he was not certain of any details of plans to remove those onboard but noted that Coast Guard crews were awaiting high tide, expected early Wednesday afternoon.
Tommy Eaton of nearby Pooler, Georgia, came to Tradewinds’ Savannah dock at noon Wednesday. She brought a pain pill for her husband, Mark Eaton, to take for his bad back when he is able to get off the boat.
She said her husband called about 12:30 a.m. from the ship to tell her there were problems.
“He said, ‘Something is just not right with this boat. It has lots of black smoke coming out the back, and it’s leaning to one side,’” Eaton said.
After a sleepless night, Eaton said, her husband called again at 7 a.m.
“He just said they were sitting there waiting for the Coast Guard,” Eaton said. “He said everybody looked fine. They were just ready to get off the boat.”
That was the last update she got before his phone went dead.
“I’m just worried about, Did they take enough drinks and food?” Eaton said as her husband’s casino cruise stretched into its 12th hour since the ship ran aground.
The Escapade is a casino ship operated by Florida-based Tradewinds Casino Cruise. The company’s Facebook page said that Tuesday night was to be the maiden voyage for its Savannah cruise service and passengers were invited to board for free.
About 50 cars were in Tradewinds’ parking lot Wednesday afternoon. A security gate at the dock was closed and a guard said he was the only employee there.
The casino boat’s first Savannah cruise was scheduled to run from 7 p.m. Tuesday until 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the company’s website. It describes the vessel as a three-story ship capable of carrying 500 passengers. It’s outfitted with slot machines, poker and blackjack tables and a roulette wheel.
Tradewinds Casino Cruise did not immediately respond to phone messages left Wednesday morning at the company’s Savannah office and its headquarters in Madeira Beach, Florida.
Passengers aboard the ship were wearing life vests as a precaution as they awaited help, Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Lauren Jorgensen said.
“My understanding is the ship has generators to provide power,” Jorgensen said, though she didn’t know many specifics about conditions on board.
“The area is too shallow for our boats to come alongside so we do not actually have personnel on board,” she said. “They can see the vessel, they just can’t get on scene.”
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