VIDEO: Cat sinking spurs questions

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the Columbus Day weekend sinking of a 45-foot party boat with 31 passengers and a black Labrador retriever aboard on Miami’s Biscayne Bay.

FWCC spokesman George Pino said the commission is looking at whether the boat’s owner/operator, identified as Otho Durward Campbell, 50, of Miami Beach, has a captain’s license, whether the boat was overloaded when it sank, whether it was carrying enough life jackets and whether Campbell was charging passengers a fee.

All of the passengers on the Catamacabin — a home-built catamaran party boat — were rescued as marine police, the Coast Guard, towboats and good Samaritans converged on the chaotic scene a half-mile off Miami’s Rickenbacker Causeway about 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Pino said it appeared that Campbell has no captain’s license and that he was representing himself and Catamacabin “as a for-hire type of business, as somebody willing to accept money for a service,” which is illegal for an unlicensed operator. Campbell told the Miami Herald he was just partying with friends on Catamacabin and had asked them to chip in for food and beverages.

Campbell said he had picked up most of the partiers — many of them University of Miami and Miami-Dade College students — at a dock behind the Four Ambassadors Hotel on Miami’s Brickell Avenue and motored to Nixon Beach on Key Biscayne with a DJ on board, according to the Herald. The boat was coming back when it appeared to hit something and water began “gushing in” through the forward section of the hull, he told the Herald. The boat sank to the bottom, its upper deck protruding from the water.

Because the boat is home-built, investigators will use a formula to determine how many passengers it should be able to carry, Pino said.

He said it is OK for skippers to take friends out on their boat and have them pay something toward the cost of fuel, but it is not OK for an unlicensed operator to charge passengers a fee for delivering a service: taking them out on the boat.