A casino boat ran aground off the coast of Georgia during its maiden voyage Tuesday night, leaving 94 passengers and 31 crew members stranded for more than 12 hours.
The incident began about midnight, when the vessel struck land about 2 miles northeast of Tybee Island, said Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Jacksonville, Fla.
Choppy waters scrapped initial plans to rescue the passengers by boat, and all 125 people aboard were forced to spend the night on the vessel.
During high tide Wednesday, Jorgensen said, a private salvage company tried four times to tow the boat to shore, but each time, the tow lines broke.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, Coast Guard personnel began to evacuate the passengers, ferrying them in groups of 15 to 20 on smaller boats to Coast Guard cutters waiting nearby. Jorgensen said the rescue took a couple of hours; four people had to be evacuated by helicopter.
"It was a complex rescue of a lot of people, but we’re happy to report that it went very well," Jorgensen said.
Back on land, the passengers were loaded onto buses to return to their cars in Savannah. Seven crew members, including the captain, remained with the boat.
Crew members reported to the Coast Guard that the 174-foot Escapade had experienced a malfunction of navigation equipment. Jorgensen told The Times that the agency was investigating the cause of the accident but had not yet confirmed the reported malfunction.
The Escapade is owned and operated by Florida-based Tradewinds Casino Cruise, which advertised free boarding on its Facebook page for the ship's maiden voyage. The boat was scheduled to depart at 7 p.m. Tuesday and return later that night, Jorgensen said.
Kia Murray, who said her fiance was stuck on the boat for 13 hours before being rescued, recounted his phone callfrom the ship to CBS News. "He just said everybody had been getting a little irritated from being out there overnight," Murray said.
Calls to Tradewinds Casino Cruise were not immediately returned.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times