Ride the Ducks suspends operations in Philadelphia

A Ride the Ducks boat returns on the Delaware River toward the ramp off Race Street.

Ride the Ducks has suspended operations in Philadelphia "indefinitely," the tour company announced Wednesday on its website.

"We regret having to close our operation and send good wishes and brotherly love to the people of Philadelphia," the company said in its brief statement.

Later, the company added: "Due to circumstances outside of our control including a 330 percent increase in our insurance premiums, continued operations in Philadelphia are not financially feasible at this time. We enjoyed serving the people of Philadelphia since 2003, serving over one million guests during that time."

City officials Wednesday night said the suspension caught them by surprise.

Lauren Hitt, Mayor Kenney's spokeswoman, said the office had just learned of the decision and could not yet comment.

Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the city's First District, which spans the Delaware River near Center City, said he had not heard the reasoning behind the decision. He said he found it surprising, but that he was also concerned about the company's safety record.

"Do we have concerns? We absolutely have concerns any time safety is an issue," he said. "It's a big concern."

The company's statement did not address its history of accidents.

In July 2010, 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem drowned in the Delaware River when a barge overran one of its ducks, which had been in a shipping lane. The two were on a church-sponsored trip from a small town in Hungary. The crew and the other passengers made it safely to shore.

The operator of the tugboat, who was on his cellphone dealing with a family emergency at the time of the crash, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

In another accident, a tourist from Beaumont, Texas, Elizabeth Karnicki, 68, was killed in May 2015 when a Ride the Ducks vehicle struck her as she crossed the intersection of 11th and Arch Streets in Chinatown.

Police said a witness reported seeing Karnicki crossing the street against a red light just before she was hit. At the time, she was looking at an electronic tablet.

Karnicki's family has sued Ride the Ducks, the manufacturer of the ducks, and the City of Philadelphia, saying the crash was in part due to "huge blind spots" inherent in the amphibious vehicles that operate on city streets and on the water.

Lawyer Robert J. Mongeluzzi, whose firm won $17 million for the families in the 2010 crash, is representing Karnicki's family.

Mongeluzzi, in an interview Wednesday night, said the city is now a safer place.

"The ducks are dangerous," he said. "They are inappropriate for city streets, they're a danger on the land and on the water, and I'm glad to see them go."

He added: "You don't promote tourism by killing tourists."

Officials with Ride the Ducks, based in Branson, Mo., did not return requests for comment Wednesday night.

mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc