Casino ship still stuck in waters off Georgia, South Carolina

A casino boat that ran aground during its first gambling cruise from Savannah remained stuck offshore for a second day Thursday as the Coast Guard reviewed salvage plans for risks of fuel leaks or dangers to the few remaining crew members onboard.

Attention turned to freeing the 174-foot casino ship Escapade after Coast Guard crews rescued 118 passengers and crew from the vessel using cutters and helicopters Wednesday afternoon. Passengers returned to shore 16 hours after the ship became stranded in the shallow waters between Tybee Island, Georgia, and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Seven members of the casino ship's crew remained onboard Thursday to assist with salvage efforts. The Coast Guard had received a proposed plan for a salvage crew to dislodge the vessel, but it wasn't clear how soon a first attempt would be approved, said Petty Officer Anthony Soto, a Coast Guard spokesman.

"It could be today, or it could be tomorrow," Soto said Thursday morning.

He said the Coast Guard wanted to ensure salvage attempts wouldn't endanger seven crew members who remained aboard the Escapade. Also, authorities want to minimize any risk of tearing holes in the casino ship that might rupture fuel tanks and spill toxins into the water, he said.

It wasn't clear how salvage crews planned to try to free the stranded casino vessel. Attempts to pull it loose using tow cables at high tide failed Wednesday afternoon, prompting the Coast Guard to evacuate the 94 passengers and most of the cruise ship's crew using rescue boats and a helicopter.

The Escapade is operated by Florida-based Tradewinds Casino Cruise. The ship ran aground during the company's first cruise in the Savannah market.

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.