A 174-foot casino boat on its maiden voyage got off to a rocky start off the coast of Savannah, Ga.
The boat, carrying about 100 passengers on a trip from Savannah, ran aground overnight Tuesday and remained stranded off the north end of Tybee Island, a popular beach destination east of Savannah, in the Calibogue Sound near Hilton Head, South Carolina, on Wednesday after tow lines broke during the Coast Guard's initial attempts to free it.
Twelve hours past their scheduled return, the “irritated” passengers were offloaded by the Coast Guard and ferried ashore.
About 94 of the Escapade's 96 passengers and 27 crewmembers arrived at the dock shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after the boat left for its maiden casino voyage Tuesday night. A second cutter carrying 20 more people arrived shortly afterward. Four people were ferried ashore by helicopter.
One passenger was transported by ambulance to a local hospital as a precaution because of high blood sugar, but no injuries were reported, according to the Coast Guard.
Passenger Michael Alcott, 39, told local news outlets that most of the passengers stayed calm and the crew treated them well.
"The AC was blowing cold. They had food," he said.
Crewmembers fed the passengers hot dogs late at night and served eggs and bacon in the morning, he said. He said passengers slept on the floor, using life jackets for pillows.
Fellow passenger Dina Cook said she was upset that passengers were kept in the dark as long as they were. "It was nerve-wracking, the fact that we were not being told anything," she said.
Initial attempts to tow the boat failed when the tow lines broke, so those aboard were transferred first to small boats that hold about eight people, then to the two larger vessels, Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen said the area where the boat was stranded was too shallow for the Coast Guard boats to pull alongside it.
The casino boat was not impeding ships sailing to and from the Port of Savannah, said Robert Morris, a spokesman for the Georgia Ports Authority.
The Coast Guard received reports that the vessel had run aground about midnight Tuesday, officials said. The initial report from the Escapade's crew was about a malfunction of the chart plotter, part of the navigation system, Jorgenson said, but the Coast Guard had yet to confirm any malfunction and is investigating the grounding.
"That's the question right now, we don’t know. We've got qualified marine investigators that are actually going to go on the vessel, they're going to do a full investigation to see what happened, there's a lot of speculation, and actually right now I couldn't speak to it because I wouldn't know where to start," Coast Guard Lt. Warren Fair told WSAV News-3.
Boaters familiar with Calibogue Sound say there are significant sandbars along that stretch of water and it can be dangerous.