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Sen. Josh Hawley proposes duck boat safety bill

Bill follows Table Rock Lake tragedy last summer
Posted at 4:46 PM, Apr 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-04 20:19:01-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has introduced a bill in Congress that would enact stronger safety measures after a duck boat sank and killed 17 people near Branson, Missouri, last summer.

Hawley's proposal would require the use of life jackets on duck boats. It would also require more buoyancy for the vessels in case of emergency flooding.

The bill would also ban duck boat operations on the water in severe weather.

As the 41 Action News Investigators first reported in August, the boat shouldn't have been on Table Rock Lake at the time it sank because of a U.S. Coast Guard mandate from a 2017 inspection. Specifically, the mandate stated that duck boats can't be run on the water when winds exceed 35 miles per hour.

A severe weather warning was in effect when the boat was on Table Rock Lake on July 19. Wind gusts exceeded 70 miles per hour that day.

Under Hawley's proposed bill, non-compliant duck boats would not be able to operate until safety requirements are met.

The Republican senator said the National Transportation Safety Board made a series of recommendations similar to his proposal in 2002.

Those recommendations came three years after 13 people died in a duck boat tragedy in Arkansas in 1999.

In that case, investigators found that passengers wearing life jackets were trapped by the canopy on top of the boat and drowned because they couldn't escape.

Hawley's proposal would also ban canopies for duck boats.

"These are recommendations that safety experts have recommended for literally years. It is time to get them into law and taking a step towards preventing the kind of tragedy that we saw in Branson last year," Hawley said.

There's still plenty of unsettled issues following last summer's tragedy.

The duck boat captain, Kenneth Scott McKee, faces 17 counts of misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty by a ship's officer in a federal court criminal case. He's scheduled to go to trial in June.

Nine members of the Coleman family from Indianapolis died in the tragedy. A lawsuit involving the family was settled last month.

Another lawsuit involving William and Janice Bright of Higginsville was settled in November.

However, several other lawsuits in both federal and state courts are pending.

The results of the Coast Guard's formal Marine Board of Investigation also are still pending.