Casino cruise ship sets sail after shutdown

Coast Guard inspection found issues with safety equipment, lifeboats

MAYPORT, Fla. – The Victory II Casino Cruise ship departed out of Mayport on Friday evening after the ship was docked for safety violations last week by the Coast Guard.

The ship's certificate of inspection was revoked last week because of issues with fire safety equipment and lifesaving equipment. The Coast Guard completed its annual inspection of the ship Thursday and found no issues with those items but did find a few other problems.

Coast Guard officials said that during a six-hour inspection Thursday, they found issues with the storage of lifesaving equipment and with fire-detection equipment. Those problems were fixed before a follow-up inspection Friday morning, and the inspectors cleared the vessel to operate again.

Lester Bullock, CEO of Victory Casino Cruises, said cruises will resume Friday at 7 p.m. He said the ship will resume its twice-a-day schedule on Saturday.

News4Jax spoke to a few passengers who have put the week's safety concerns out of mind and re-focused on fun.

"Oh, most definitely, we appreciate what they did. We appreciate the job they did. We heard it was some minor things, but they took the right precautions. But they got everything fixed," said Dean Price.

"I love boats. That's the first thing about it, so I'm excited to be here get out and win some money, "Joyce Hamilton said. 

The ship initially failed inspection last Thursday after the Coast Guard received an anonymous tip and went on board while the ship was underway on its afternoon cruise.

Inspectors found some inoperable fire dampers on board, as well as a lifeboat that wouldn't deploy quickly enough. Because of that, the Coast Guard revoked the certificate of inspection, shutting down the ship.

They reinspected the ship Saturday, but it again failed. The Coast Guard is still investigating what caused the initial violations.

Bullock said that the original issues that led to the shutdown involved two out of 40 fire dampers on board that wouldn't close all the way. Those are now fixed.

He said that a former maintenance employee had told them those dampers were fixed before he left, but they weren't. He said he welcomes Coast Guard inspections as often as they'd like.

"Inspect away," Bullock said. "This is one of those situations where we want everyone to understand that these vessels are safe and we spend the money that we spend to make sure they are safe."

Bullock said that crews will check items like the dampers more frequently to make sure everything is working properly.

"We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars," Bullock said. "I do not want to jeopardize my crew, my staff, or any customer whatsoever. I will spend whatever it takes to make sure this vessel is safe and sound."

Bullock said he's thrilled for his employees. About 250 of them in the Jacksonville area went without a paycheck last week.

Coast Guard officials said the issues found Thursday are common in boats as old as the Victory II. They said a third issue found was minor and will need to be fixed within 30 days.

Cruise officials said everyone who missed out because of the shutdown on a sailing that they had already fully paid for will have their money refunded and will receive a free cruise, a $10 voucher for games and a $15 food voucher.  

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