August 20, 2018 — The US Coast Guard today confirmed earlier reports here that its Marine Board of Investigation into the DUKW 07 tourist boat tragedy has referred information to the US Attorney’s office for Western Missouri, which will consider criminal charges in the matter.
“The Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation referred the Stretch Duck
07 casualty to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of
Missouri on 13 August,” said Mrs. Alana Miller Public Affairs Officer for the Coast Guard. “The Coast Guard will continue its safety investigation. It is Coast Guard policy to ensure that its Marine Board of Investigation does not compromise any criminal investigation.”
On August 21, the US Attorney issued this statement:
I can confirm that the Coast Guard referred this matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Missouri to consider a potential criminal investigation and federal prosecution. We cannot provide any additional information or comment beyond that confirmation.
The criminal charges referral from a Marine Board of Investigation is unsual process for the Coast Guard. Generally, the Marine Board considers all testimony and staff investigations and then weeks, months or even years later refers matters out for criminal consideration if found appropriate.
For example, in the Marine Board investigation into the sinking of the SS Marine Electric, the Board referred on information to the US Attorney’s office but only more than a year after the sinking. The operator of the Marine Electric later pleaded guilty to a single felony count.
It’s uncertain why the current Marine Board performed an “early referral” in this case, though public pressure to show results may be a compelling factor. Moreover, the Coast Guard itself has been criticized for not responding robustly to a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation concerning DUKW boats following a 1999 tragedy where tourist family members also died.
The NTSB also warned:“Because the industry has, by and large, refused to take voluntary action to address this risk, the safety board considers it imperative that the Coast Guard take steps to ensure that all amphibious passenger vehicles will not sink in the event of an uncontrolled flooding event.” (Ital added)
Former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Jim Hall recently referenced the 1999 disaster and called DUKW-type boats “unregulated amusement park rides.
“My feeling after seeing this one is that the only thing to do in the name of public safety is to ban them. It’s the responsible thing to do to ensure (riders) are not put at risk,” he told USA Today.
The DUKW Stretch 07 sank at Table Rock, Missouri, in July with the death of 17. Critics have said regulators did not adequately rein in DUKW boats despite a series of mishaps.
The Coast Guard had certified Stretch 07 but stated the certification was good only for “sunny day sailing.” The certification prohibited operation during stormy weather. The boat was racing to shore in a storm when the wreck occurred.
Sources have said the Coast Guard will not call further witnesses — at least any who might be implicated in a criminal investigation. To do so would complicate the investigative process, perhaps forcing the government to subpoena witnesses who might be reluctant to testify while under criminal investigation by the US Attorney.
The “DUKW” name is a manufacturer’s designation of the original World War II era vehicles. “D” stands for the year 1942. “U” means utility (amphibious); “K” means all wheel drive and “W” means two powered rear axles exist. The original vehicles were designed primarily for use as landing crafts. Modern day vehicles are more complex and said by owners to be more stable than the originals. Few of the original DUKWs carry passengers.