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Just Ducky Tours cancels the rest of its 2018 season amid sagging sales

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A Just Ducky Tours duck boat in shown in Pittsburgh in this photo from the company.

Duck boat season in Pittsburgh is over, at least until next year.

Amid sagging ticket sales, Just Ducky Tours — whose eight World War II amphibious craft depart from Station Square — has canceled all trips scheduled in 2018.

“We are closed for the remainder of the 2018 season,” the outgoing message on Just Ducky’s main phone line told callers Tuesday. “If you have an existing reservation for the 2018 season, someone from the Just Ducky Tours staff will be contacting you.”

The locally owned and operated company had planned to run its land-and-water tours through the end of November.

A spokesperson for Just Ducky could not be reached late Tuesday.

Its abrupt suspension of operations comes as independently operated duck boat companies around the country — from Boston to Seattle to Chattanooga, Tenn. — grapple with declining ticket sales following the July 19 deadly sinking of a duck-style tour boat during a heavy storm on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo. Seventeen of the 31 people aboard the Ride the Ducks vessel died.

Last week, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley filed a civil lawsuit accusing the Branson operator, owned by Ripley Entertainment, of operating its duck boats in spite of knowing about design problems and severe weather that the boats were not designed to handle — including dangerously choppy waters and winds above 70 mph, the Kansas City Star reports .

More than 10 individuals have filed civil suits, and the incident also is under criminal investigation by federal safety officials and state prosecutors.

Just Ducky’s fleet, which is not related to the Missouri company, uses the same canopies that safety leaders have cited as a potentially deadly impediment for escaping a sinking vessel.

Shortly after the Branson tragedy, D’Addario told the Trib that Just Ducky Tours has safely toured nearly 2 million passengers on the streets and rivers of Pittsburgh in the past 21 years. He said that not only are its vessels safe, but Just Ducky has “led the development of policies and procedures that are known as best practices in our industry.”

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published a story in which Just Ducky co-owner Christopher D’Addario said that his sales were down by a quarter to one-third since the Missouri fatalities.

“We have some repeat customers who are almost defiant,” D’Addario told the Journal. “‘I’m getting on your boat because I know they’re safe,’ they say. Other people are afraid.”

A Just Ducky manager told Trib news partner WPXI-TV that the local duck boat business has been further hampered because of construction challenges caused by last month’s train derailment above Station Square.

Just Ducky’s tours — which typically run six times a day through Nov. 30 — range in cost from $5 for young children to $25 for adults, with special pricing for private and corporate events.

The company has begun taking bookings for the start of its 2019 season, which begins in April.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected]ribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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