Coast Guard: Casino ship shut down over fire safety, lifeboat issues

Cruise ship crews working to pass next inspection to get ship operating again

MAYPORT, Fla. – Issues with fires safety equipment and lifesaving equipment caused the Coast Guard to shut down the Victory II Casino Cruise ship, which sails out of Mayport.

The Coast Guard told News4Jax that an anonymous tip led them to inspect the ship, and they found the issues last week.

Coast Guard officials said that after getting the tip, officers boarded the Victory II Casino Cruise as it was underway last Thursday. They rode back to the dock on the ship, and once they got to the dock, they found the violations, which led them to remove the ship's certificate of inspection.

"We found that there were several inoperable fire dampeners, which are basically ways of cutting off oxygen to either crew space or cargo space on the vessel," Lt. Cmdr. Marc Montemerlo said. "Several were inoperable, and several were not functioning properly."

One of the ship's captains said the ship will be shut down all week. Officials have moved up the cruise ship's annual inspection, which had been scheduled for next week, before the violations were found.

"Some items are very easy to see, others are more difficult. Therefore, when our investigators go out -- we had four at the time of the inspection -- we were able to go to our areas of expertise and find problems with the system," Cmdr. Alisa Praskovich said. "I am not going to deny that those areas should have been in compliance. They were not. I can't tell you the single contributing factor of why they are not. We are investigating that at this time."

According to the Coast Guard, the ship was re-inspected Saturday, two days after the issue was found, but the Coast Guard said the ship again failed. The Coast Guard said that in addition to the fire dampeners, another issue involved lifeboats that would not release in a timely fashion.

"There are certain items that are obvious to crew members when they go wrong," Praskovich said. "For instance, when the radar fails, when the radio fails, they notice. It is a busy ship. It sails twice a day, but it is still required when the Coast Guard goes on board that it meets all standards and regulations."

Investigators are also looking into the hours the crew was working to see if those played a role.

"Crew rest is a very serious issue," Praskovich said. "We want to make sure all crew, whether it's the captain or the engineers, have adequate rest. We are investing that right now, but it's too early to tell if crew fatigue contributed to the deficiencies on the 21st."

Cruise ship officials said that they are making sure that everything possible is being done to easily pass the ship's inspection later this week. They also said that for everyone who has missed out on a sailing that they have already fully paid for, cruise ship officials will refund their money and give them a free cruise, a $10 voucher for games and a $15 food voucher.

Coast Guard officials said they will complete the ship's annual inspection on Thursday, and if the ship passes, the certificate of inspection will be returned, and it will be able to operate immediately. Cruise officials said they plan on being back in operation Friday.