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Inferno At Sea

Video

View of the burning boat from a nearby vessel

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

AN American woman died after a tour company’s boat engine exploded off Barraterre, Exuma, on Saturday in an accident that left ten other people, including her 39-year-old husband, one Bahamian and nine Americans, injured.

Another Bahamian on board the boat was not injured, The Tribune was told.

The husband of the woman who died is now in the Intensive Care Unit of the Princess Margaret Hospital. Both of his legs are fractured.

A mother is in the hospital’s private surgical ward with injuries, while her husband was not injured, nor was their 13-year-old daughter. However, the mother’s 22-year-old daughter, who lost both of her legs and has a fractured arm, is in intensive care.

First-time visitors, like a couple celebrating their 15th anniversary, were among the injured.

The deceased and the tourists have not been publicly identified.

However, a Gofundme account was created by the family of several people who survived the crash and were treated at PMH. Stefanie Schaffer, according to the page, sustained life threatening injuries and experienced a double amputation. Stacey Bender, with whom she travelled, suffered multiple broken bones and injuries. Up to press time last night, the family had raised $15,863 of their $50,000 goal.

According to Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, six of the injured were taken to Princess Margaret Hospital on Saturday and were said to be in stable condition as of yesterday afternoon, but the status of four Americans airlifted to a hospital in St Petersburg, Florida, is not known.

Last night, hospital officials said three of the six people at PMH were discharged, among them the Bahamian boat operator.

Three other Americans remain at PMH, two of them in the Intensive Care Unit.

“The persons under the care of the Princess Margaret Hospital are from two families which are also being assisted by the US Embassy in Nassau as it relates to their care, and future arrangements for transfer to the United States,” health officials noted in a statement. “One person fatally injured was transported to the hospital’s morgue.”

Some of the tourists had stayed at Sandals Emerald Bay.

The group was touring with Exuma’s largest tour operator, Four C’s Adventures, when one of the boat’s engines exploded, police said, causing a fire that sent thick smoke billowing into the air and unleashed a frantic effort to save lives.

The explosion happened within minutes of the tour’s launch and was observed by dozens of tourists and residents, The Tribune was told. A video posted on social media captured the reaction of anxious visitors in a nearby boat. Some of them jumped into the water to offer assistance. Others cried for their own boat to leave the area, fearing it too would catch fire.

Captain Horace Smith, owner of Sugar Adventure Company, said he was conducting his tour when he saw smoke coming from the Four C’s vessel minutes before it exploded.

“We saw everyone was in the water,” he said. “Two women were holding onto a guy. One of them said she couldn’t feel her legs so my son jumped into the water to help her. There was a lot of blood on my boat from the lady whose leg was damaged.”

Captain Smith said he is eager to talk to Captain Ron Watson, the commander of the destroyed Four C’s vessel.

“I really want to speak to him so he could tell me what happened,” he said. “If it was my boat and I saw smoke, everyone would be off the boat before the explosion happened but only he knows what happened.”

The local clinic in Exuma is 45 minutes away from Barratarre so rather than wait for emergency services to arrive, residents took the injured in their personal vehicles.

“The injured were bleeding out,” said Edmond Burrows, the owner of Aquadisiac Adventures, who cancelled his tour to provide assistance. “Me and my crew, we helped lift people on board our boat. We put them on plywood, lifted them off, put them in the back of the truck and tried to get them to the hospital with the assistance of a few of the Americans who were nurses and doctors. They told us to tie their wounded areas to stop the bleeding.”

Mr Burrows held the hand of the woman who eventually died, comforting her after the explosion.

“I was on the truck with her,” he said. “I held her hand straight until we met the ambulance. She had serious wounds. Where they tied her leg, she wasn’t bleeding too much but she was in plenty pain. I had to talk to her to keep her conscious. She was slipping in and out. She held my hand with a tight, tight grip. I looked at her and said, ‘honey you’re not going to give up on me’ and she gave me a big smile. She said she had a ten-year-old son and a husband. When I heard that she passed, I said wow.”

The owner of Four C’s Adventures, Clayton Patterson Smith, did not speak to this newspaper yesterday. When contacted, he said he was speaking to officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

The Tribune was told his son was on the destroyed vessel but was not injured.

The Tribune also understands the vessel was built by his company, a fact likely to draw scrutiny as the investigation continues.

Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said the accident has led to a “moment of pause” for residents because it shows the importance of safety precautions.

“Our hearts go out to the American tourists, some of whom suffered severe injuries, as well as the family that suffered a loss of life,” he said.

Residents of Exuma, meanwhile, are bracing for the potential fallout from the incident.

“I’ve gotten a lot of international enquiries from as far as Germany and also ABC News who made enquiries and want information,” Mr Cooper said. “The general sentiment is that accidents do sometimes happen and, whilst it is regrettable and unfortunate, I believe Exuma will rise again. There will be a temporary dip in enthusiasm for the tours and what we do in Exuma but I’m confident it will be put into context by the international community and the people involved will recognise this was an aberration.”

Robert Thompson, owner of Robert’s Island Adventures, agrees.

“It will definitely impact the business for a little while until things settle down but we should be all right,” he said.

One local tour operator who spoke to The Tribune anonymously said there is tremendous need for stricter oversight of Exuma’s tour industry.

“We need more safety inspections,” the person said, adding there is hope the incident will highlight the island’s “hacker” problem even though it was a legitimate business that was involved in Saturday’s incident.

To operate tours, businesses require a captain’s licence, renewable boat licences and liability insurance.

The Gofundme page for victims can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/stefanie-schaffer-and-family.

Comments

proudloudandfnm 1 year, 6 months ago

Stop reporting the engine exploded. It did not. The only way an outboard can explode is if fuel leaks under the cowling and is ignited somehow. But if that had happened the engine would be obliterated. You can clearly see both engines completely intact in every picture.

This has to be investigated and the cause determined. We cannot tell these people's families the engine exploded.

Stop printing that idiotic theory. If a cop told you that the cop is just wrong.

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 6 months ago

Agreed ......... How can the engine(s) explode, and they are both visible and in place after the accident???? .......... This is negligence with either construction of the craft or maintenance or gas leak etc. ....... I smell a cover-up already.

And who is Clayton Smith and his political connections in Exuma???????

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OMG 1 year, 6 months ago

Not enough gas even mixed with air to cause an engine to exploded .Most probable cause was fuel vapours under deck assuming it had under desk fuel tanks. All boats with internal gas tanks should be cleared out by a fan before starting engines in case there is a leaf. Tragedy.

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BahamaPundit 1 year, 6 months ago

I've heard that there was a gas leak and the hull of the boat was full of gas. One little spark then boom. That is the only reason that makes sense.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 6 months ago

All passenger carrying commercial aircraft are subject to periodic airworthiness (safety) inspections and must have on board a current airworthiness certificate. The same should apply to all passenger carrying commercial sea craft. Why aren't these sea vessels subject to rigorously enforced safety inspections? Was the tour business owner qualified and licensed to build this boat? Was the design of the boat approved from a safety standpoint by an independent qualified inspector/naval engineer? Does the owner of the business have a business license that permits it to both build and operate tour boats? Does the boat license restrict the number of passengers on board at any one time? Did the boat have appropriate safety equipment on board, e.g. a recently inspected fire extinguisher? What about sufficient readily available life jackets? And why has the U.S. Embassy here in the Bahamas not long ago required the State Department of the U.S. to post a travel advisory warning to caution all U.S. visitors that the Bahamas government does not properly regulate and enforce the safety of these sea tour businesses? The same goes for Canada's official representative here in the Bahamas and Canadian visitors. Tourists should not be left to wrongfully assume these tour businesses are properly regulated and safe. Both the owner(s) of Four C's Adventures and the Bahamian government should find themselves subject to law suits for having contributed to the wrongful death and/or maiming of the most unfortunate victims. Insurance?

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Economist 1 year, 6 months ago

Grew up on the water. Inboard or inboard outboard explode, but never an outboard.

Since he had tourists, I assume he had insurance so this should make for an interesting claim.

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BahamaPundit 1 year, 6 months ago

Don't assume anything in the Bahamas Economist. BTW does anyone know who their insurance provider is and whether the policy was paid up to date?

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bogart 1 year, 6 months ago

WeĺMuddateksic .... Economist....and BahamaPundit......was the boat construction approved??....insurance.??..and...policy paid.???....valid..??....cerrtainly the best points..and if all comes together...must change the entire way tourist businesses are handled..!!!

Currently many questions exist for employees who state to insurance company that car is for personal private use but then use the vehicle for employer business and get a gas allowance.

Another area of questioning is the usage of Mortgage Indemnity Insirances that banks use to extend bank loan risk to increased marginal levels .....knowing that we are a hurricane zone likely to create severe cathostrophe including massive defaults and severe unemployment ...creating massive defaults

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John 1 year, 6 months ago

Full investigation needed and even the tour operator should have his own investigation done. From the size of the plumes obviously a large amount of fuel was involved and since the tour was just getting underway had to have been leaking for a while or the gas tank(s) blew. Sad that visitors had to come to the Bahamas and have such a tragic experience. These type tours have become very popular recently and so maybe there is a need for more regulations to be put in place. May the soul that lost her life Rest In Peace and lets everyone else recovers to full health.

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 6 months ago

There are already laws in place for Nassau/city boat tour operators ...... The problem is, whether these laws are even observed or known by the Out Island /rural boat tour operators ........... That is the big issue facing this country.

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Bonefishpete 1 year, 6 months ago

"Three American visitors remained at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) last night, two of them in the Intensive Care Unit."

Truly Tragic Part. May God be with them.

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BahamaPundit 1 year, 6 months ago

If Four C's doesn't have insurance, the Government will most likely have to pay.

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msmuffett 1 year, 6 months ago

Bahamaspress is reporting 4c's has no.... insurance. http://bahamaspress.com/2018/06/30/on...">http://bahamaspress.com/2018/06/30/on...

which means Butch might have to engage council if guests were staying at sandals and were referred by same to the "tour".

which also means that is govt is quick to collect 4k from americans who want to charter in the bahamas but looks the other way on safety issues for the local population of workers? you decide.

boat engines dont catch fire and explode. at any given time there is nore more than 4oz of fuel in the engine block itself whilst running. this was is a fuel fire from stored, leaking fuel tanks or bad connections and its doubtful this boat had a sniffer system in place.

my educated opinion only.

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concernedcitizen 1 year, 6 months ago

Sandals have their approved partners and the guest book in house through Island routes , 4C,s is not one of their approved partners and is not booked through Island routes ,If the guest book on 4C,s they do so on their own and walk off the property to be picked up by non approved operators buses. Therefore Sandals and Mr Stewart have no need of council

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BahamaPundit 1 year, 6 months ago

RE: msmuffett Thank you for the information concerning the insurance status of 4C's. What a terrible predicament for the passengers. I would think the American Embassy will pressure the Bahamas Government to pay for the medical treatment of the guests, due to their negligent oversight of the leisure cruise industry. To ensure that tourism is not negatively impacted, the Government must: 1. Pay all costs associated with this tragedy; 2. Ensure all leisure cruise operators are insured from now on; 3. Ensure all leisure cruise operators have implemented the requisite safety standards and are strictly policed from now on (which would likely include the prohibition of home-made boats to be used with tourists).

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 6 months ago

Carl Bethel likely called Minnis and told him that Frankie Campbell (Minister of Transportation at the time of this incident) needs to be kept as far away as possible from investigators and lawyers looking for answers as to what caused the explosion and who should be held responsible.

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sheeprunner12 1 year, 6 months ago

Soooooooo, Is Renward more competent to handle this crisis????? ...... LMAO

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 6 months ago

No, Renward is just as incompetent as Frankie. All Minnis has done with the reshuffle is confirm his own stupidity.

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Craig 1 year, 6 months ago

I cant believe that there was not one fire extinguisher in sight in the video of the incident. Not even on the boat the video was taken from. There is no respect for rules and procedures in this country. This attitude will continue to cost the lives of innocent people

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msmuffett 1 year, 6 months ago

Excellent observation I missed the no fire extinquishers anywhere. I should of noticed that being in the marine industry for over30 years. I personally wouldn’t want to expedite refer or book any excursion given the liability and huge lack of oversight anywhere. This will be a field day for the legal profession unfortunately and maybe it will be a game changer. Hopefully otherwise this type of folly will continue

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BahamaPundit 1 year, 6 months ago

Re Craig. A fire extinguisher would likely not have helped. Presumably, the gas tank exploded when gas that had leaked previously ignited. There was no way to prevent this explosion, so long as the gas leak went undetected. The only way to prevent these incidents from reoccurring is to install some type of gas sniffing equipment that would transmit an alarm once a gas scent is detected.

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msmuffett 1 year, 6 months ago

I have personally seen this happen. The cost of a marine fitting is double and sometimes triple The cost of a similar fitting used in the automobile industry. Lack of funds and lack of knowledge determine which one is used. Couple this withe explosive nature of petrol and you have an accident waiting to happen. I can’t tell you the number of boat owners over the years that I have educated about this. Couple this with a homemade non certified boat and you might have a recipe for disaster.

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BahamaPundit 1 year, 6 months ago

Due to the rarity of boats exploding, it is likely that the determanent factor in this matter was that the boat was home-made, so it likely did not have the same safety features as factory built boats, such as non flamable materials used or reinforcement of the gas tank etc.

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Craig 1 year, 6 months ago

I agree fire extinguishers could not have prevented the explosion but that's not the point. Fire extinguishers are a mitigation tool. The accident would have been so much less severe had fire extinguishers been available. A life could have possibly been saved. There is abosolutely no excuse for not having them on board or even on board surrounding vessels. Whoever is responsible for inspecting commercial watercraft should be held responsible for gross negligance and incompetance. The owner of the boat, I dont what they should do with him, criminal negligance charges perhaps should be filed

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ashley14 1 year, 6 months ago

I saw the story on the news in Atlanta. They are not saying much. Just that it is under investigation. I know there are regulations, but are they enforced. Kind of scary for millions of tourist's yearly.

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PKMShack 1 year, 6 months ago

Most of the post seem to over look that there is never accountability in our country. No surprise here just business as usual. Regulations? When have they ever been enforced in any aspect regarding anything in our country. What laws and regulations are enforced 1. Traffic 2. gambling 3. Corruption 4. Crime Bahamians be honest with our situation it's been going on for years and still does.

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sirD 1 year, 6 months ago

Hey, I feel more sorry for the girl 22 and pretty, in a coma with 2 legs amputated who is a dancer, this will not go well in the media, a Can of worms has just been opened. It stinks for the Bahamas real bad

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gbgal 1 year, 6 months ago

Horrible, horrible event! I weep for the families and victims and wish we could lessen the grief. Whatever the lessons, let's make sure we learn we!l! Our prayers are with you.

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Aegeaon 1 year, 6 months ago

From what it looks like, Four C's boats ran for years like this, and no explosions.

So the owner's telling us that the fuel tank was never checked on for any problem and ran normally until now? Why does this country play with cheap products that endanger everyone like this?

Alas. This will throw up another travel warning, and Four C's lack of regulation and now insurance will greatly cost the company, and tourism overall.

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Porcupine 1 year, 6 months ago

In boat safety classes we were taught that the fumes from 1 ounce of gasoline are equivalent to 3 sticks of dynamite.

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ashley14 1 year, 6 months ago

The story was on the news last night also. The woman that died lived in Woodstock, which is about 30 minutes for where I live. She was the PTA President for the local school. She was a volunteer at the local school. When you see these victims loved ones and hear about their lives, it's close to home. I hope this wasn't a from lack of following regulations and enforcing them. This accident changed these people lives forever.

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