JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill announced Tuesday that she wants to enshrine into law federal recommendations to improve duck boat safety such as getting rid of canopies that can trap passengers if the vehicles sink, a move that comes after a deadly accident in Missouri.
McCaskill said during a speech on the Senate floor that she is drafting legislation following the sinking of a sightseeing boat last week on Table Rock Lake near Branson that killed 17 people.
She’s working off of National Transportation Safety Board recommendations spurred by another deadly duck boat accident in Arkansas in 1999. Federal regulators then noted the amphibious vehicles have trouble staying afloat during flooding and overhead canopies can trap passengers if the vehicles sink — two areas of concern McCaskill also pointed out.
Despite the board’s past recommendations for improvement, McCaskill said not much been done to address safety concerns.
“We’ve had 40 deaths associated with the duck boats since 1999,” she said. “Yet there has been little done to address the inherent dangers of these amphibious vehicles.”
A U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB investigation of the latest Missouri accident is ongoing, but McCaskill said she doesn’t want to wait to address “some of these glaring issues in terms of passenger safety.” She said that investigation could take a year or longer.
It’s unclear how much progress McCaskill will be able to make in passing such legislation with the upcoming midterm elections a few months away. McCaskill is among those up for re-election.
Fellow Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, expressed some caution in taking action before the federal investigation is wrapped up. He said investigators will determine whether the latest accident was avoidable and whether recommendations from the Arkansas case were followed by the Coast Guard and the boat operator, or whether there was an equipment failure or other problem.
“Any legislative response, including interim steps that may be needed, should be based on the facts that come out of that investigation,” Blunt said in a statement. “As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of both agencies, I will continue closely monitoring the investigation and making sure we get as much information as we can as quickly as possible.”
Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is trying to unseat McCaskill, also appears to support waiting on investigation results.
“I support new safety measures, and I think the findings from state law enforcement’s current investigation will be very helpful in tailoring legislation and future regulations,” Hawley said in a statement.
The Senate also on Tuesday confirmed two nominees to the NTSB, which had been stalled for months amid a partisan dispute. The voice vote to approve Republican Bruce Landsberg and Democrat Jennifer Homendy brings the five-member panel to full strength for the first time in several years.