Water taxi settles, turns over operations

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The move by Seaport Taxi leaves only one such service remaining within the Baltimore harbor

The move by Seaport Taxi leaves only one such service remaining within the Baltimore harbor

A Baltimore water taxi service named in a lawsuit concerning the deaths of five passengers after one of its pontoon vessels capsized in a storm last March has ceased operating.

Seaport Taxi turned over operations to a competing taxi service in early November. The $17 million lawsuit against Baltimore’s non-profit Living Classrooms Foundation, which operated Seaport Taxi, was filed in May and settled by the foundation in October for an undisclosed amount.

“Out of respect to the families at the forefront of this process it is inappropriate for us to comment further [on the settlement],” says James Piper Bond, president of Living Classrooms, which had liability insurance for its maritime operations.

“You don’t see a settlement of this magnitude unless there is a substantial risk that the defendants will eventually be held liable,” Baltimore attorney Stuart Salsbury, who represented several plaintiffs in the case, told the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

The 36-foot pontoon taxi was on a 1-mile tourist run March 6 across the open waters of the Patapsco River from South Baltimore’s Locust Point to Fells Point in East Baltimore. Threatening storm clouds reportedly were rolling in from the northwest when Coast Guard-licensed Capt. Francis Deppner, 74, departed.

Deppner soon after was warned over the radio by a fellow captain to return to the dock, according to published reports. As Deppner made his turn, 50-mph gusts reportedly hit the taxi broadside. The boat’s fixed canopy and Plexiglas side curtains, lowered and secured for cool weather, apparently created enough windage to capsize the vessel.

“It was incumbent upon the operator of such public water transportation that they have the most accurate and up-to-date weather information so as not to put passengers in harm’s way. They did not,” Salsbury tells Soundings. “They must employ well-trained personnel to run the boats who must understand the risk factor involved, and be able to assess weather conditions and make prudent determinations about taking a boat out when the threat of a building storm is evident.”

Bond had said the storm “came without warning and was an act of God.”

Ed Kane’s Water Taxi, which had been tracking the fast-moving storm for more than an hour, pulled its boats out of service some 20 minutes before the storm hit.

With Seaport Taxi handing over its operation, Ed Kane’s Water Taxi (Harbor Boating Inc.) becomes the sole provider of public water transportation within the Baltimore harbor, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun. No money changed hands in the new arrangement, and Living Classrooms announced plans to relinquish its nine-boat fleet.

Owner and operator Cameron Kane, Ed Kane’s widow, says she has no need for more vessels. Her 13 boats serve a dozen shuttle stops throughout the harbor and carry 400,000 passengers annually. The Baltimore Development Corporation has asked for formal proposals to provide the city’s sole water taxi service and transform it into a year-round operation catering to commuters and tourists. n