The Coast Guard has evacuated passengers from the ESCAPADE, a casino boat that ran around off the Georgia coast after midnight on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. All passengers and many of the crew were off the ship by 6pm the same day after having been stuck on the boat overnight and most of the next day. They were returned to shore aboard Coast Guard cutters. Four passengers were evacuated by helicopter. The following day after having lightened the load of 96 passengers and 22 of the 27 crew members, the vessel was able to free itself at high tide without help from boats that had earlier tried to put lines aboard the ship and tow it out of its predicament. The ESCAPADE returned to its dock, a day and a half after the vessel ran aground while on its first passenger cruise out of Savannah.
ESCAPADE Casino Boat Aground July 16 2014 US Coast Guard photo
The 174-foot long ESCAPADE was refloated on the afternoon high tide the next day, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen. Less than two hours later, after passing a Coast Guard inspection for leaks, the ship arrived at its dock at the Bull River Marina. “The ship was able to dislodge itself without assistance, probably because it was no longer weighted down with passengers”, Jorgensen said. The Coast Guard rescued 118 passengers and crew from the stranded boat Wednesday afternoon. “Without the passengers, I would imagine the ship was sitting much higher in the water,” Jorgensen said. “So they got underway under their own power.” It ran aground early Wednesday about 1.8 miles off Tybee Island, in the Calibogue Sound near the Georgia-South Carolina border, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
ESCAPADE at dock
The ship is owned by Florida-based, Florida Casino Cruises, managed by Tradewinds Casino Cruise Lines,LLC. The company’s website advertises the ship as offering “unrivaled open seas entertainment aboard its flagship vessel, The Escapade. Enjoy exciting Las Vegas Style Casino action as you embark on a superb 5-hour cruise experience.” Previously the ship had operated along Florida’s Gulf Coast but was testing the waters of a new market in the area around Savannah, Georgia after the previous operator Diamond Casino had been shut down for routinely allowing passengers to gamble illegally in state waters off Georgia and South Carolina. Casinos must remain closed until the ship is out past the three mile limit.
The ship was built in the U.S.A. in 1978 by Rysco Blountstown in Florida. The gross tonnage is listed as 1,314 tons with a deadweight tonnage of 664. Other sources put the length at 186.6 feet or 56.88 meters. It has gone through a large number of previous names beginning with RED SEAL until 1979, then TIGER SEAL up until 1983 when it again reverted to RED SEAL. From 1994 until 2004 it was called the SAVANNAH LADY and then spent two years using the similar name ESCAPADE CASINO. Finally, from March 2006 until May 2009 it was called DIAMOND GIRL II, before acquiring the current name. The ESCAPADE was supposed to have started operations in mid-May after being refurbished in Charleston. Delays prevented it from sailing until July 16th and Lady Luck was obviously not with this inaugural cruise.
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
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