By John Shumway

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — ‘Quack, Quack, Quack’ you can’t miss them coming down the street spreading smiles to those they pass on the sidewalks of Pittsburgh. It’s become a quirky tradition as the WWII amphibious vehicles of Just Ducky Tours roll through town and on our rivers.

But effective immediately, after 21 years the Ducks are parked for at least the rest of 2018. Co-founder Michael Cohen says the ridership has been down 45-55 percent during the most important time of year for the company. Summer is to Just Ducky, like Christmas is to mall retailers.

Cohen blames the Station Square train derailment for some of the drop off as customers had difficulty getting to the Ducky launch site in Station Square.

But the biggest issue has been the tragic accident of a Ducky boat in Branson, Missouri on July 19. Seventeen people died when they were trapped in the boat as it sank in an almost hurricane force storm that swept over the lake where it was operating.

Cohen is furious that Just Ducky has been lumped in with the Missouri company when there is no connection and he says a major difference in how the companies approach safety.

The boat in Missouri had been altered to make it larger and able to handle more people. Cohen says they extended the canopy the full length of the craft and installed electronic windows along the side. So when the accident happened with the boat became swamped and settled into the water. The windows blocked people from going out the sides and the canopy held them in the vessel.

“Our boats have never been altered,” Cohen says.

The canopy does not go the full length of the boat and the windows down the side are mechanical and can easily be dropped with a lever at the front of the boat.

Lt. Christie Smith with the Pittsburgh office of the U.S. Coast guard says Just Ducky’s boats are inspected top to bottom every year and the USCG oversees emergency drills. Lt. Smith says Just Ducky goes beyond what is required and a model of safety precautions.

Despite all that Cohen says Branson has tainted the image of all Duck boats and caused the major drop off in ridership. Cohen says you can make the best business plan in the world but there is no way to predict something like the Branson tragedy.

He calls the Branson company unscrupulous and worse and hopes the ongoing criminal investigation will result in charges.

Meanwhile, Visit Pittsburgh says Just Ducky Tours are an important attraction for groups visiting Western Pennsylvania.

For now, the company’s 50 employees are out of work and Cohen says the company will decide in March whether to resume the tours. He says it will depend on whether the support they’ve enjoyed over the last two decades returns.