By Travis Cartwright-Carroll
NASSAU, Bahamas — An investigation into the explosion of a tour boat in Exuma in The Bahamas in June that killed an American woman and left several others injured found that the vessel was not registered with the Port Department, was never inspected, was not constructed up to standard and the fuel fill hose did not meet the specification for its intended use.
The report, which was released on Monday, noted that an exact cause of the explosion could not be determined “due to the significant damage sustained during and after the explosion”.
The investigation was conducted by the Bahamas Maritime Authority.
Four C’s Adventures operates several boats in Exuma for the purpose of providing local tours in the surrounding islands, predominately to tourists, the report stated.
It said that the 37-foot boat set out on June 30 for a half-day tour of the Exuma Cays with two crew members and 10 passengers. Shortly after setting off from Barratarre, Great Exuma, “a large explosion occurred in the vicinity of the middle of the starboard pontoon” of the boat.
The report said, “The force of the explosion resulted in the starboard pontoon lifting clear off the water before coming back down and resting in the water. The explosion was followed instantaneously by flames and an immediate deceleration of speed.”
Maleka Jackson, 39, of Woodstock, Georgia, was killed as a result of the explosion and Stefanie Schaffer, 22, of Rutland, Vermont, lost both her legs.
The report recommended that the owner of Four C’s Adventures “ensure that any boat owned by Four C’s Adventures and intended for use on a commercial basis has a valid boat registration certificate”.
“Four C’s Adventures is required to ensure that all boats owned and operated by Four C’s Adventures, intended for use on a commercial basis, comply in full with the requirements of the Commercial Recreational Watercraft Act, Chapter 278A prior to undertaking commercial operations,” the report said.
According to the report, investigators visited the Port Department in Nassau and the local Port Department in Exuma in order to obtain the written plans, specifications and inventories, the valid inspection reports and registration documents for the 37-foot boat.
“Neither port department were able to provide any such documentation regarding the 37-foot boat and confirmed that no application had been received for the registration of any such boat,” the report stated.
“The Port Department had received applications for registration for 2018 for three boats owned and operated by Four C’s Adventures, namely one 45-foot catamaran, one fiberglass mono-hull and one small 30-foot catamaran. The annual registration applications were submitted on February 27, 2018 for all three boats along with the required forms and receipt of fees paid.
“As of July 1, 2018, all three applications remained pending due to the absence of an annual inspection and therefore were not considered registered with the Port Authority and specifically not in compliance with the Commercial Recreational Watercraft Act, Chapter 278A.”
The report pointed out that one of the limitations preventing an inspection being conducted by the two marine inspectors located on Exuma was due to insufficient resources.
“In 2017, the Port Department conducted an annual inspection on the 45-ft, 30-ft and mono-hull boats as part of the 2017 annual registration requirements. All three boats passed the annual inspection with no major safety deficiencies identified,” the report stated.
“In knowing that at least two of the boats constructed by the owner of Four C’s Adventures were constructed using the same materials and construction methods as used for the 37-foot boat, there is no guarantee that deficiencies identified during the course of this investigation would have been identified by the Port Department had this boat been subjected to an annual inspection as part of the boat registration requirements.
“It was also determined during the course of this investigation that there are 18 commercial charter boat companies operating from Exuma. Of the 18, six are registered with the Port Department whilst the remaining 12 have registration applications pending but continue to operate on a commercial basis.”
“The exact number of boats owned and operated could not be confirmed by the owner,” the report said.
The report said that the marine safety investigator sighted one 45-foot catamaran docked in Barratarre; one mono-hull speed boat of fiberglass construction; a 30-foot catamaran of aluminum construction; and a 60-foot boat under construction at the owner’s address.
“The owner informed the marine safety investigator that a fifth boat was being painted locally on the island, constructed out of fiberglass and is of 36-foot in length identified as a Palmetto design speed boat,” the report said.
The report also highlighted an issue with the fuel fill hose used on board the boat.
“The fuel fill hose used during the construction process of the boat could not be identified after the fire due to the extensive damage,” the report said.
“However, the fuel hoses identified… were taken from another Four C’s Adventures boat and it was confirmed by the owner that the same make and model of fuel fill hose was used on all boats constructed by the owner.
“The fuel fill hose is manufactured by Shields, a marine hose manufacturer.
“According to the manufacturer, model XHD (Extra Heavy Duty) series 148 is designed for use in bilge water discharge, specifically in the application of submersible, remote and hand bilge pump applications.
“It is not designed and not recommended for use with any gasoline/alcohol blends or liquids.
“There are two consequences when gasoline and alcohol blends come into contact with this type of hose and both have the same outcome.
“The first will result in the hose to harden, eventually the hardened hose will fracture and potentially result in a leak of gasoline.
“The second consequence is that gasoline and alcohol blends will degrade the structural wall of the hose to such an extent that the hose will no longer contain the gasoline in liquid or gaseous form.
“In both cases, gasoline will then be able to permeate the surrounding environment.
“The manufacturer was contacted during the course of the investigation and stated that ‘the series 148 hose should under no circumstances be used in the application of a fuel fill hose’.”
The report recommended that the Port Authority enforce the commercial watercraft laws; consider amending the current act to require all self-built boats to undergo a survey, and ensure all necessary resources are available to all port departments in order to regulate the recreational water sports industry.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian