SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - A casino boat stranded on a rocky sandbar pulled itself free without help from tow boats Thursday, a day and a half after the vessel ran aground during its first passenger cruise out of Savannah.
The Escapade, a 174-foot ship, made its escape at high tide before 1 p.m. Thursday, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen. The casino 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."
The Escapade, owned by Florida-based Tradewinds Casino Cruise was making its maiden voyage in the Savannah market Tuesday night when it ran aground in waters between Tybee Island, Georgia, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. Passengers were stuck on the boat overnight and most of the next day. They returned to shore aboard Coast Guard cutters Wednesday about 16 hours after they were first stranded.
The Coast Guard was inspecting the now-freed casino ship Thursday afternoon to make sure it was capable of safely making the trip home to its dock in Savannah. Jorgensen said inspectors were looking for fuel leaks and any potential hazards to the seven crew members remaining on the ship.
Salvage boats using tow cables had been unable to pull the casino ship free while passengers and crew remained aboard Wednesday, prompting the Coast Guard to evacuate everyone save for a few key crew member using rescue boats and a helicopter.
There was no answer Thursday at Tradewinds' phone number in Savannah. A phone message left at the company's headquarters in Madeira Beach, Florida, was not immediately returned.
The Coast Guard said the Escapade crew initially reported a malfunction in the ship's course plotter, a part of its navigation system. But it had not confirmed Thursday why the ship ran aground.
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