BRANSON, Mo. — The Coast Guard has convened a commandant-directed Marine Board of Investigation into the duck boat sinking that claimed 17 lives here earlier this month.
This safety investigation has been made only three other times since 2010, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Alana Miller.
"That is the highest-level investigation that the Coast Guard has," Miller said Tuesday. If the Coast Guard found evidence of criminal activity, it would refer the matter to the Justice Department.
The Coast Guard's five-person board of inquiry will look for the factors that contributed to the sinking; evidence of misconduct, negligence or law violations; and whether Coast Guard personnel or any other government agency contributed to the incident, Miller said.
The three other incidents that merited this level of investigation:
2010: Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
2015: SS El Faro cargo ship sinking in the Atlantic Ocean during a hurricane
2017: sinking of the crab boat Destination in the Bering Strait
Eventually, the Coast Guard's investigation, which could take multiple years, will include public hearings, Miller said.
The chairman of the board is expected to be Coast Guard Capt. Wayne Arguin, who also was involved in the Deepwater Horizon investigation, according to the Coast Guard.
Also Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., announced she had filed a bill to enact safety recommendations that the National Transportation Safety Board previously had issued for duck boats.
"With input from NTSB and the Coast Guard, (I want) to require that the design issues with amphibious passenger vehicles be addressed and that boats that are not compliant be taken out of service until they can be compliant," McCaskill said last week. "These recommendations are reasonable and common sense."
Her legislation would require improved measures to keep duck boats afloat during flooding, removal or replacement of their canopies and increased inspections "until all vessels are upgraded," according to a news release.
Since the fatal capsizing July 19, multiple U.S. and Missouri agencies have launched investigations, and lawsuits have been filed in federal and state court.
Attorney General Josh Hawley's office is investigating the duck boat's sinking under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, a state law meant to protect consumers from fraudulent business practices, officials said Monday.
"We are working with investigators to determine the facts and whether any criminal charges are appropriate," said Mary Compton, a spokeswoman for Hawley's office.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol also continues to investigate.
"Our agency is conducting an investigation to determine if there were any violations of law," patrol spokesman Sgt. John Lueckenhoff said Tuesday. "We are aware of the attorney general’s investigation, and we are cooperating with all agencies."
The National Transportation Safety Board took custody of the duck boat after it was recovered from the bottom of Table Rock Lake and will examine the craft as part of an investigation that could last longer than a year.
The NTSB already has begun examining evidence, including a recording of the duck's final minutes before sinking. The duck boat's captain commented on the weather radar before taking the duck out on the water, according to the preliminary review.
A lawsuit from the Coleman family, which lost 9 of 11 family members taking the sightseeing tour that evening, was filed in federal court Sunday and seeks seeking $100 million. A second Coleman family federal lawsuit, which does not list a specific monetary amount, was filed Tuesday.
A third lawsuit from daughters of a Missouri couple killed did not list a specific dollar amount and was filed Monday in state court. All of the cases are pending.