Philly says 'no' to Ride the Ducks on Schuylkill

January 25, 2011 6:14:52 PM PST
The operator of a duck boat that sank in a July collision on the Delaware River lost its bid to resume tours on another, smaller river, but said Tuesday it is trying to begin anew on the Delaware - possibly as early as this spring.

Philadelphia officials cited road- and water-traffic concerns as being among the reasons for rejecting a bid by Norcross, Ga.-based Ride The Ducks to move the amphibious tours to the Schuylkill River in the city.

The head of the tour company said that while he was disappointed in the decision, he hopes to resume tours on the Delaware River, where two Hungarian tourists were killed July 7 when a barge ran over one of the amphibious vessels.

"We feel like we need to pivot and evaluate the Delaware again," Ride the Ducks President Chris Herschend said, adding that the company has approval from the Coast Guard and is working with the city. "The city is a key stakeholder for the business, and we want their support."

The city still has some safety concerns regarding operations on the Delaware River and needs to review the company's plan for the land portion of the amphibious tours, said Brian Abernathy, chief of staff to the city's managing director, Richard Negrin.

The Coast Guard has approved Ride The Ducks' amended operations plan on the Delaware River, agency spokesman Capt. Todd Gatlin said, but the company will still have to work with the city on it.

In a preliminary report released in September, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the idled duck boat made repeated, unanswered calls to the tugboat guiding the 250-foot barge moments before the collision.

All 35 passengers and two crew members aboard the boat were tossed into the water when the barge plowed over the 33-foot duck boat, sinking it. Most were rescued by firefighters, a passing ferry boat and passers-by on shore.

The two Hungarian tourists killed - Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20 - had been touring the city as part of a church-sponsored exchange program. Their parents have sued the city and the operators of both vessels.

New York City attorneys Peter Ronai and Holly Ostrov Ronai said relatives of the two "cannot believe that authorities are still debating" allowing the duck boats to resume operation. They called the vessels in their current design "an accident waiting to happen."

The attorneys have cited a federal analysis of a 1999 accident in Arkansas in saying that the vessels are unsafe due to their design and canvas canopies. Ride the Ducks, however, has said canopies on its craft are designed to allow easy egress if there's an accident.