BRANSON, Mo. — Steven Paul could see the duck boat’s danger almost immediately.
It was August 2017, less than a year before 17 people would die from the capsizing of the Ride the Ducks Branson amphibious vessel.
Paul, a mechanical inspector, saw a glaring problem when he examined the duck boat.
“One of the most prominent things I found was the exhaust being in front of the vessel, which — according to Department of Transportation standards — would not pass regulation,” he told CNN’s “New Day” on Monday. “The exhaust has to come out past the passenger compartment.”
Paul saw footage of the sinking and remembered the big danger that he had warned about.
“One of the things I saw first in the eyewitness video … was that the ship was taking heavy waves to the front end. With the exhaust coming out the front and going down below the water line, the waves are obviously pushing water up in that exhaust,” he said.
“If water gets up in the exhaust, the engine is eventually going to stop.”
Paul said he told the operator of the duck boat about his findings last year. The response?
“I pretty much got a, ‘Thank you for your report.’ And they paid their invoice,” said Paul, owner of the Test Drive Technologies inspection company. “I didn’t hear much feedback about my findings at all, although I do have several pages of my report (that) cite the Department of Transportation standards.”
That was 11 months ago. Fast forward to last week, when the boat capsized amid howling winds and ferocious waves.
Ripley Entertainment Inc., the parent company of the duck boat business, has not responded to CNN’s request for a response to Paul’s comments.
Paul said he and his family have enjoyed riding duck boats in the past. But for duck boats to operate safely, he said, changes need to be made in how they’re regulated.
Because duck boats carry tourists on both water and land, they’re regulated by two separated agencies — the Coast Guard for when the boat is on water, and the Department of Transportation when the vehicle is on land.
“There is a huge disconnect between the US Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation,” Paul said.
“If (there’s) anything good that can come out of this unfortunate accident is that the two regulating bodies can come together. They can form one type of inspection for amphibious vehicles and decide, who’s going to regulate it? Who’s going to do the inspections? What are the inspection requirements going to be? And realistically, that needs to happen, or the ducks need to be shut down.”