London Duck boat tours on River Thames halted after fire

Eyewitness Phil Beasley-Harling: "There was a big plume of black smoke"

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A tourist boat firm has had its tours on the River Thames suspended after one of its amphibious vessels caught fire, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency said.

Thirty people were rescued from the London Duck Tours (LDT) craft Cleopatra on Sunday afternoon by the emergency services and a passing tourist boat.

A statement on LDT's website earlier said it would run a land-only service.

A rescuer said one passenger told her they had found it "difficult" to get the life jackets out of their packets.

Three people were taken to hospital "as a precaution" following the fire.

A Duck Tours vehicle in Battersea London Duck Tours promotes its vehicles as those used in the D-Day landings in 1944

In a statement on the London Duck Tours website, managing director John Bigos said: "The company acknowledges the distressing situation experienced by our passengers.

"However, we are pleased to report that all persons involved in the incident are safe and well.

"Until the cause is established, the company will not be operating on the river and should technical or safety modifications be required to our fleet, these will be introduced prior to the service recommencing."

Mr Bigos said the incident should not be compared with the sinking of two amphibious vehicles, operated by another company in Liverpool's Albert Dock in June, as his company's procedures were of a "higher standard".

"London Duck Tours operates a fully-modernised fleet of nine vehicles that have been completely rebuilt and refurbished between 2002 and 2012.

"This includes new, purpose-built hulls, new engines, computerised systems and steering equipment," he added.

'Fear and terror'

In 2008 another London Duck Tours craft, Mistress Quickly, caught fire.

Many people jumped into the river from the London Duck Tours craft. Many people jumped into the river from the London Duck Tours craft

A mechanical breakdown led to an electrical fire in the engine. The nine passengers were evacuated to a fire launch.

The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents' recommendations included making sure fire extinguishers were checked regularly and instructions were placed next to them.

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which looks after the implementation of the maritime safety policy in the UK, said: "We are investigating the incident to determine the cause of the fire and what, if any, appropriate further action needs to be taken.

"We have also taken formal action to ensure that the company's other DUKW vessels don't operate while the investigation takes place."

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) and London Fire Brigade have also begun their own investigations into the incident.

Start Quote

You could see the fear and terror in their eyes”

End Quote Emily Farrelly Rescuer

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "We are of course speaking to the MCA and MAIB and it would not be appropriate to comment further until we have a better understanding of the causes of this incident."

A spokeswoman for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said: "The MAIB is aware of the incident and is investigating.

"This is a live investigation and it would not be appropriate to give a running commentary."

Emily Farrelly, who was on a passing tourist boat with her family on Sunday, said she saw "billowing smoke" and passengers in the water.

"You could see the fear and terror in their eyes," she said.

"It was lucky the craft was close to the bank and many of the passengers were able to stand in waist-high water

"I think they were just in sheer panic at first and struggled to get [the life jackets] out.

"I spoke to one gentleman that got on to our boat and he said that getting the life jackets out of the packet was so difficult that they just fled the boat and got off because their safety was more important."

London Duck tours is yet to respond to the claims about life jackets.

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