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Three men rescued after jumping from burning boat near Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Three men who were rescued Friday night from Tampa Bay after their boat caught fire and sank west of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge talk to officials at O’Neill’s Marina in St. Petersburg.
Published Dec. 28, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Three men were rescued from the water after their boat caught fire near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Friday night.

Capt. Sean Riley, 50, said he and his crew of two took a job to deliver a 36-foot Gulfstar Trawler boat from Tampa to Port Charlotte. They planned to be there by this afternoon, but just west of the Skyway the boat's engine lost power.

Riley lifted the engine compartment and said flames shot back at him. He tried to put them out with the extinguisher, but it was no use. At 6:52 p.m., a crew member called 911. Soon after, everyone on the boat jumped overboard clutching their life jackets.

"We just huddled up and waited," Riley said.

The three men linked arms as 5-foot waves splashed across their faces. At first Riley worried about the boat and the fire, but after a while his thoughts turned to hypothermia and sharks.

"By the grace of God, we're here," he said.

St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue found the ship 28 minutes after they received the call. Rescuers transferred the men onto a U.S. Coast Guard ship, which brought them into O'Neill's Marina.

St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue Capt. Rob Nugent said firefighters extinguished the flames, but the boat sank in 25 feet of water.

None of the men on the ship was seriously injured, Nugent said.

Riley has worked on boats since he was 18, he said. He's suffered through tragedy before and only a few years ago he lost a close friend in the Caribbean Sea.

"This is what I do," he said. "I've done it all my life and I'll keep on doing it."

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