Maritime Attorney Matthew Shaffer Speaks Out About Delaware River Duck Boat Catastrophe

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Ride the Ducks' "Duck Boat" tourist excursion turned deadly this week as one of their Pennsylvania amphibious vessels was struck and sunken by a K-Sea Transportation barge hauling sludge in the Delaware River. Maritime Lawyer Matthew Shaffer speaks out about tourist vessel safety and what injured parties can do to recover for their losses in the duck boat accident.

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Delaware River at Penn's Landing

This duck boat accident definitely raises questions about how often the vessels are inspected, what maintenance work is done, who controls safety plans on these boats, and no distress call made by the tourist boat.

Barge hits Tourist "Duck Boat" in the Delaware River: Two Remain Missing -- Maritime Lawyer Matthew Shaffer speaks out about tourist vessel safety and what injured parties can do to recover for their losses in the duck boat accident.

About an hour into a 37-person Delaware River tourist excursion aboard a “Duck Boat” named the Resource yesterday things started to go very wrong. An engine fire caused the duck boat to stall out, leaving the tour boat drifting along the Delaware River. Duck boat crewmembers told the passengers not to worry, that a rescue vessel was on the way. However, at around 2:30 p.m., a very large 250-foot barge being pushed by a tugboat slammed into the tourist-laden duck boat vessel.

The barge was owned by the city but operated by contractor K-Sea Transportation to haul sludge from a biofuels plant in Northeast Philadelphia to a recycling plant in Southwest Philly. Ride the Ducks is owned by Herschend Family Entertainment Co., of Norcross, Ga, and their company claims it has never had an accident of this type before.

While the Ride the Ducks tourists sat waiting for the rescue vessel, many did not have on life jackets. Once the tourist boat was struck by the barge, passengers were left scrambling to get their life preservers on. And sadly, not everyone could get the life jackets on in time. The panic coupled with the rapid current made rescue efforts difficult. Until last night, police divers searched for two unaccounted for passengers, young tourists from a Hungarian travel group - a 20-year-old man and a 16-year old girl. The duck boat sank 50 feet to the Delaware River bottom.

35 passengers and a number of crewmembers were rescued from the fast-moving Delaware River current by helicopter and other means. Ten of the passengers were rushed to Hahnemann University Hospital, while others were treated at Penn's Landing, many at the Independence Seaport Museum.

A “Duck Boat” is an amphibious tour vehicle. A Maritime Lawyer in the Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris office, Stacey Burke, recalls riding on a Ride the Ducks tour just like this one when she and her family were in Philadelphia just a few years ago. “I was pregnant and my husband and I took our one year-old on the ride to tour the city both in and out of the water. The tour provided us with duck masks and duck whistles to use while we rode around town. We really enjoyed the tour and never gave a moment’s thought to any danger while riding along the river. This duck boat accident definitely raises questions about how often the vessels are inspected, what maintenance work is done, who controls safety plans on these boats, and no distress call made by the tourist boat. How on earth did K-Sea’s captain or other crew not see the Resource before demolishing it?”

Maritime Lawyer Matthew Shaffer of Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris maintains Duck Boats are dangerous. He cites several incidents.

In 1999, a Duck boat operated by a different company sank rapidly in Lake Hamilton, Ark., as its overhead canopy trapped passengers, leaving 13 dead. The National Transportation Safety Board launched an immediate probe into the Delaware River Duck Boat disaster, and said it would review radio recordings captured by the Coast Guard to reconstruct what happened, interview riders, perform a sight test to determine whether the tugboat operator could have seen the smaller boat, and engage in other investigative measures.

"The injuries one can suffer when being thrown off or evacuated a water vessel often include exposure injuries. In this case, where tourists are so unsuspecting of potential danger, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD will be a common result of the accident for both crew and passengers," says Shaffer.

Founded in 1964, Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris has represented clients with maritime personal injury cases for over 45 years. The aggressive trial lawyers have represented thousands and obtained outstanding recoveries for clients, well into the 8-figures in some cases. The team of maritime attorneys has over 100 years of combined experience handling maritime lawsuits all over the world. The lawyers of Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris can be reached at 713.524.3500, by visiting Twitter and Facebook.

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