An 85-foot casino boat became disabled twice over a two-week period in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida, each time requiring a Coast Guard response.
In the first incident March 8, SunCruz IX lost all power and went adrift in heavy seas. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued all five crew while winds were gusting as high as 45 mph. The out-of-service floating casino had been on its way to a repair yard because it was already operating with one engine not working.
Two weeks later, the vessel made another attempt to complete the same voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville, but it ran out of fuel. A Coast Guard cutter towed it back to port.
SunCruz IX departed Fort Lauderdale with a five-man crew March 7. They were en route to a repair yard at Jacksonville to get the vesselâ€™s disabled engine fixed.
Â â€œThey were going up on the other engine, but then that engine lost power at sea,â€ said Coast Guard Petty Officer Bobby Nash. â€œThey were able to hire a fishing vessel to try to tow them the rest of the way, but that towline parted in the heavy seas leaving the vessel drifting again.â€
The SunCruz IXâ€™s crew dropped its anchor, but it failed to perform. A sea anchor also failed to hold the vessel and prevent it from drifting further out to sea. Rolling in 10-foot seas off the Florida coast without propulsion, the crew of the gambling boat were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.
The mayday call was received at 0930 on March 8 by Air Station Savannah. A helicopter with a rescue swimmer was airborne within 15 minutes. Due to strong headwinds, it took the helicopter 50 minutes to reach SunCruz IX, which was drifting about 17 miles off St. Augustine.
Lt. Michael Brimblecom, pilot of the rescue helicopter, said the operation was difficult.
Â â€œThe rescue was on the challenging side due to the winds gusting up to 45 knots, and the three-deck-high gambling boat sat very high in the water, so the waves kicked it back and forth, which presented some large movements of the vessel,â€ Brimblecom said.
The Coast Guard rescue swimmer was lowered to the pitching top deck and loaded the SunCruz IXâ€™s crew into the rescue basket one at a time for the lifts up to the helicopter. The helicopter spent 30 minutes at the scene.
The SunCruz IXâ€™s crew was flown to the airport in St. Augustine, and the Coast Guard rescue team returned to their base at 1230.
The drifting SunCruz IX was later recovered for its owners by a commercial salvor and towed to Port Canaveral.
A second attempt by the SunCruz IXâ€™s owner to complete the trip to Jacksonville about two weeks later also failed.
â€œThey lost power this time due to running out of fuel and had to be towed back to Port Canaveral by the USCG cutter Kingfisher
,â€ Nash said.
After the incident, SunCruz IX passed a Coast Guard incident follow-up safety inspection.
According to Coast Guard records, the 91-gross-ton SunCruz IX was built in 1995 and was out of service since March 2006. The vesselâ€™s managing owner is Vessel Casinos Inc. and the operating manager is Presidential Yacht Charters. The owners didnâ€™t respond to a request for comment.