John Malouf knows Seattle may not be interested in the idea of someone launching another fleet of amphibious vehicles on its waters and roads.
It was only six years since a Ride the Ducks of Seattle vehicle laden with tourists broke an axle and crashed into a bus carrying international students, killing five people and injuring 60. Millions were paid out to victims and their families, resulting in the tour operator’s closure and bankruptcy filing in April last year.
“I know your story well,” said Malouf of the crash and the legal trip that followed.
Still, Malouf believes this is the best place to start his Seattle Splash Tours, an “amphibious adventure” slated to open this summer that offers 90-minute land and water rides in Hydra-Terra vehicles. built for tourism by Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International.
“This is a completely different amphibian built for touring,” said Malouf, who has been running Alaska Amphibious Tours in Ketchikan, Alaska for 20 years.
“It really comes down to safety.”
Unlike the Ducks vehicles, some of which were built for military use in the 1940s and 1950s and serviced for decades, Seattle Splash Tours uses newer vehicles with modern parts. The oldest vehicle in his fleet is 20 years old and the aluminum hull is filled with buoyancy foam approved by the Coast Guard, “which is a great advantage”.
“You can’t sink them,” he said. “You can swim positively.”
His vehicles have “proven performance” in 16 countries and he called them “the safest amphibious vehicles for tourism”.
His tour company had one death in their history: in 2004, a pedestrian stepped in front of a vehicle and was killed. Investigators found that the company was not at fault.
Malouf has received two-month permission from the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation to start the vehicles at the Sunnyside Avenue North boat ramp, where the ducks started earlier and where he hopes the good times will start again.
“We have the feeling that there is a certain vacuum there,” said Malouf of Seattle, a city he had got to know well as a harvest diver. “There is a good market there. Seattle is a great tourist destination and has had some success over the past few years.
“It could use a little splash and fun.”
Where the Ducks tours had a funnier tone – “Captains” at the wheel with funny names and wacky hats, punning and loud music – the Splash tours will be more informative, but still a good time, he said.
“We like to have fun,” said Malouf. “I think Ride the Ducks had a huge amount of local sponsorship and after the accident they found it hard to keep up with.
“We’ll stand alone,” he continued. “We’re a different company and we do things the way we like to. And safety is our priority. “
In February 2019, a King County jury awarded the victims of the crash $ 123 million after a four-month civil trial. The judges found that Ride the Ducks International – the Branson, Missouri-based maker of the Duck amphibious vehicle – bore 67% to 70% of the responsibility for the crash; and that Ride the Ducks of Seattle was 30% to 33% to blame. The prices for each of the 40 plaintiffs ranged from $ 40,000 to $ 25 million.
After the crash, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which regulates commercial charter buses and tourist vehicles nationwide, suspended the local company from operating its 20 tourist vehicles and found that Ducks Seattle had 463 security breaches.
Last year, four U.S. Senators enacted the Duck Boat Safety Enhancement Act following a 2018 duck boat accident that killed 17 people at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri.
The law was passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and is expected to be reviewed by the entire Senate this year.
If passed, the law would reinforce recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board that the use of life jackets and equipment on all operating duck boats must be more buoyant in the event of a flood in an emergency. The law would also require the logging of security measures; annual safety training for crew members; and the consideration of security recommendations in previous incident reports.
Ride the Ducks left Seattle for good last July when the 19 remaining vehicles were auctioned off and sold for $ 5,000 to $ 45,000. The higher bid was for a vehicle painted with the University of Washington colors and logo.
“You exceeded the best expectations we had,” said Colin Murphy of the James G. Murphy Company, which ran the week-long auction. “And we had no idea what they would choose because they aren’t really for sale in the open market.”
Most of the vehicles were sold to private owners, from Mount Vernon in Skagit County to New York, Maine and Florida.
“They landed everywhere,” Murphy said, adding that Ducks’ portable ticket office sold for $ 4,500.
Malouf does not have a set start date for the sale of tickets. But he expects a bit of a setback considering what has happened here and in other parts of the country where amphibious vehicles have been involved in accidents.
“Of course there will be resistance,” he said. “There will always be haters. But you just keep smiling and keep going. “
And floating. That too.