PASS-A-GRILLE, Fla. (WFLA) – The Coast Guard was warned that tragedy was just a ripple away.
Despite pleas from local charter boat companies, some companies get away with packing passengers like sardines, exceeding Coast Guard limits.
Emails from as far back as 2014, obtained by Target 8, alerted the Coast Guard about overcrowded charter boats putting passengers at risk.
The messages warned of potential disaster. In March, one happened off the shore of Pass-A-Grille, where two boaters died.
One letter to the commander of the Coast Guard’s St. Petersburg sector warned of impending problems just days before.
According to charter captain Dan Peretz of Dolphin Landings Charter Boat Center, he has spotted the same boats exceeding their legal limitation over and over.
“We’ve seen it, there’s a few boats that we’ve identified that are regularly doing that,” Capt. Peretz stated.
The vessels at Dolphin Landings carry the Coast Guard’s certificate of inspection. Boats without it cannot hold more than 12 passengers.
Emails dating back to 2014 show Peretz warned the Coast Guard that illegal charter activities put money ahead of safety and endangered lives.
The Coast Guard requested that he and others report what they saw.
“We did that on a regular basis and it seemed like nothing was happening,” added Peretz.
They spotted a boat called Ocean Drive packed to the gills on Gasparilla Day 2017, as well as another boat not licensed to carry more than 12 passengers, the Jaguar. They alerted the Coast Guard.
Emails in 2015 and 2016 specifically warned the Coast Guard the Jaguar carried more passengers than allowed.
“And we would see it loaded up. Whether it was a wedding or just a cocktail party, and it was just right in front of our faces,” noted Peretz.
In March, another email sent to the commander of the St. Petersburg sector warned of illegal passenger vessel operations compromising passenger safety.
Days later, a cruise on the Jaguar ended in disaster.
“It was avoidable,” stated Peretz.
Fifteen foreign students booked the boat. One got into trouble swimming in rough water. Crew member Andrew Dillman jumped in to help. The current swept both to their deaths.
“You just have to wonder why. Why are they going out still? How come they’re not getting shut down?” asked Peretz.
The Coast Guard would only confirm that it’s investigation continues into the incident off Pass-A-Grille.
In emails, the Coast Guard told Peretz illegal passenger vessel operations are a concern and it continues to investigate each case.
Peretz requested that Rep.Charlie Crist’s office conduct a congressional inquiry into this problem.
The Coast Guard told Crist it is investigating numerous reports of illegal passenger vessel operations and initiating civil and criminal enforcement.
Florida Yachts Charter, the company that books the Jaguar, did not return our calls.
If you have a problem that you think should be investigated call our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800-338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at email@example.com.
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