Captain of Deadly Missouri Duck Boat Charged in Federal Court


#1

17 dead after duck boat sinks at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri
#2

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Captain Scott is dressed up more as a captain of a cruise ship with 4000 passengers instead of an 11 meter boat/vehicle contraption with 29 passengers.


#3

which alone tells you how the whole stoopid farce is nothing but show with zero substance

now the question is if it is justified to charge the man criminally as the captain when in reality he was not a true vessel master but rather a bus driver who happened to be out on the water?


#4

Reading through DUKW tragedies in the NTSB archives, it is readily apparent that this is something that keeps happening because of how the vessels are taken way out of their comfort zone. It’ll be interesting to see if wind heel / down flooding alone did this, or if there was the usual assortment of leaky cv boots and faulty bilge pumps.

Don’t judge the skipper for how he dressed; that’s probably company policy. It is actually not uncommon for these amphibians to have two operators on board, one with a commercial vehicle license and one with a mariner’s license of some sort. I actually felt pretty bad for the guy when this hit the news. Every news reader out there was questioning why he didn’t avoid the squall even though he had radar, in one great incestuous orgy of eating each other’s know-nothing output and spitting it back in our faces.

IIRC, there was an ambiguous forecast and there were plenty of other tour boats out that day. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if company oversight is identified as a major factor in this.


#5

What’s in a name. So for instance the Missouri State Highway Patrol listed McKee as a ‘driver’ and the chauffeur Bob Williams, who drowned, as an ‘occupant’ in the same report…

I am curious about the role of the USCG in this matter. Fact is that in some countries Duck boats were not allowed as the were considered as not to be ‘seaworthy’ while in other countries they were allowed only when equipped with quite bulky sponsons to prevent downflooding. This particular duck boat was inspected and approved in February of that year.

Self-taught businessman Robert F. McDowell, with no engineering credentials, designed the Missouri stretched Duck boats. I suspect that every self respecting naval architect would have been horrified by this design with no reserve buoyancy and used for pleasure purposes. The question remains why they were approved in the first place by the authorities as such. War time use is a totally different ball game.


#6

It would be fair to say that the situation overall may have appeared to be somewhat ambiguous with an unfavorable forecast but good conditions at launch time. But the forecast itself was not ambiguous, there were severe thunderstorm warnings in effect. There’s a clip somewhere of a local TV weatherman practically begging boaters to get off the lake.

I agree that company oversight was a major factor, the NTSB will identify this as a major cause, the USCG not so much.


#7

As far as the legal charges against the captain I think there is a miss-match between the actual situation and the legal framework being used here.

A ship captain that had boats put in the water at sea would very much feel responsible for the safety of those boats, particularly in regards to the weather forecast. And the ship’s boat operators would to a large extent trust the ship captain’s judgement if conditions were good at the time.

In fact if something went wrong as a result of the weather changed quickly while the ship’s boats were in the water the ship’s captain would likely be held responsible for failure to take into account the forecast. The legal framework matches the situation.

In the case of the Duck boat operators the on-shore supervisor, the equivalent of ship captain, had three boats in the water and the boat operators were trusting him to make the right call yet the boat operator is being held legally responsible.


#8

And the operators of the other boats who made the same decisions aren’t charged with anything. Is this pick-up basketball, “no harm, no foul?”


#9

I agree that company oversight will be identified as a major factor in this accident. I would bet that the captain’s defense will be the corporation put a lot of pressure on the Duck Boat operators to not cancel tours, and that’s why he still went out.

I used to live in Springfield, MO, which is about 45 minutes north of Branson. When we would get strong storms, we generally knew they were headed our way hours ahead of time.

There were warnings and watches throughout the area on that day. There were reports of high winds and torrential downpours. Also, as someone else mentioned, a meteorologist (Ron Hurst) said if anyone was on the lake, they needed to get off the water (obviously they weren’t watching him). They changed the tour because of the storm. They knew a storm was coming, and it was going to be bad. I’d guess they just thought they had more time than they actually did.

The charges the captain was indicted on were for the 17 deaths. He wasn’t charged with anything related to the people who survived. There weren’t deaths on any of the other boats.


#10

This comment shows that you didn’t understand JDC’s post. Read it in context.


#12

The Seamen’s Manslaughter statute criminalizes ordinary negligence. Not gross negligence as in other criminal statutes, but ordinary negligence.

This is improper. It ought to be unconstitutional. This needs to change.

This duckboat Captain is not a mariner. Duck boats on ponds are not really maritime activities. I don’t care if this guy hold a license to operate 10 ton vessels in duckpuddles, he is no mariner. He shouldn’t be treated like one.

What this guy is, is just low hanging fruit for the US Attorney using a bad law in a case where people very unfortunately died and there is family and public pressure for the government to do something.

This statute passed in the 1850’s before instant communications, cell phone videos, in an era when seamen were virtual slave labor, and shipboard deaths were common, was intended to address wanton and reckless behavior, but where there were long delays in reporting the death and it was impossible to collect evidence beyond witness statements.

This is s bad law that needs to be repealed or overruled.


#13

Which it still doesn’t. Motts vs Green Wave and USCG failure to even frown on what the judge described as murder.


#14

I beg to differ, I think this is a perfect example of reckless behavior, and a proper application of the statute. I’m sorry, your phone is going off with weather warnings, you know that the bilge pump has been replaced with inadequate replacements making your vessel inherently unseaworthy, and you still go out? I think this qualifies as “negligence and inattention to duties” on his part and “neglect and misconduct” the company’s part and they should face the consequences.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1115


#15

But in reality, this Captain had no say in what bilge pumps were installed. And the USCG did sign off on the equipment, so Capt. Scott had every right to believe his vessel was seaworthy… Or at the minimum that it met CG standards.


#16

I really do feel bad for the man. How long would any of us hold our jobs if we refused to go out any time NOAA issued a severe thunderstorm warning? Yes this was more dire a warning than for the average severe storm, but he had the office man standing on the ramp telling him to go on out. The sky was bright and the lake was flat.


#17

I dunno, I’m not a crew boat captain myself so I don’t have that experience, but they seem to keep their jobs just fine when they regularly say no just because it’s a little foggy.

Seriously though, I can find a new job if I have to. I’ve said no to committing unsafe actions before, and I’ll say it again before I retire I’m sure. I’m not going to put a DUKW into rough weather, or a Ro/Ro into a hurricane just to make the office think highly of me. I’d rather risk my job than risk my vessel and the cargo on it, especially if that cargo has family that can sue me.


#18

An assumption is being made that the company wanted the captain to go and that the captain did not want to. Nothing I’ve seen supports that assumption.

I don’t have any info beyond what everyone else has seen but I think it’s at least as likely that the captain was just getting ready to go and the first he heard of the bad weather was when the he was told to do the water leg first. He might have just checked his phone to see why and agreed with that call.

That seems likely assuming that the captains are busy with running the boats and a single company person is responsible for making weather decisions for all the boats. Seems like all the boats have to take the same action rather then each captain making his own call, otherwise there would cause chaos as some boats cancel and others run.


#19

No, I understand JDC’s post. You may have misunderstood what I posted, or inferred something that I didn’t imply. JDC attempted to conflate ‘the same decisions’ with 17 deaths. I’m merely pointing out that the charges against McKee have to do with the deaths of his passengers, and he is not being charged with anything else outside the scope of those deaths at this point. Since no deaths occurred on the other captains’ boats, and they’re not culpable for the deaths on McKee’s boat, they’re not being charged with anything at this point either. It’s not a matter of one being treated differently than another in the same circumstance.


#20

Nobody is wondering why only one captain has been charged. There has been an assumption made that everyone understood why, It’s simple and obvious.

Nobody thinks this.

This is a professional mariners forum, no need to explain why a captain is held legally responsible for deaths that occurred when the boat sank.


#23

Mariner groups pressing for changes to Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute - from PM magazine.

Unlike any other profession in the United States, seamen can be charged with felony manslaughter in cases where the prosecution can prove only simple negligence. In any other industry, it’s manslaughter only if gross negligence occurred.