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Two owners of four-story NYC riverboat arrested for defying COVID-19 social distancing guidelines

The two owners of a popular New York City riverboat were arrested and the captain was issued a summons on Saturday after they hosted an event with more than 170 guests in violation of COVID-19 lockdown orders.

Ronny Vargas and Alex Suazo were arrested by New York City Sheriff’s deputies who boarded their vessel, Liberty Belle, a four-story floating venue that can hold 600 guests and features four bars and three outdoor decks.

The two men are accused of violating social distancing guidelines as well as operating an unlicensed bar and bottle club, according to The New York Times.

Empire Cruises, which operates Liberty Belle, put out a brief statements on its web site which read: ‘Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the Emergency Executive Order by the City of New York, as of March 16, 2020, we have been forced to cease our operations until further notice.’

Vargas is a resident of East New York, Brooklyn, and Suazo lives in Floral Park, Long Island, according to the New York Daily News. 

‘I don’t know what happened – he just called me and said he got in trouble,’ Vargas’ mother told the News. 

Law enforcement officials received complaints from locals who noticed large crowds on the ship that was hosting a 1920s-themed party as it left Pier 36 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at around 8:30pm on Saturday.

Sheriff’s deputies boarded the ship and made the arrests after it returned to the pier at around 11:30pm on Saturday.

Trever Holland, a Manhattan resident, snapped a photo of the Liberty Belle after noticing large crowds gathered on deck.

Holland was stunned to notice that none of those photographed on the ship were observing social distancing measures or wearing masks.

Holland posted the photo of the boat on Twitter, which got the attention of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Brewer then alerted the sheriff’s department, which made the arrests. 

‘I want the business in New York to do well,’ Brewer said.

‘But you have to follow the rules in terms of safety and health.’

New York City entered the fourth and final phase of its reopening last month, though some lockdown measures remain in place.

Boats are required to allow only the number of people that would enable them to maintain a distance of six feet from each other.

‘No more than the maximum number of people who can safely maintain an appropriate social distance of six feet, inclusive of both crew and passengers, unless all are members of the same household,’ New York State law says.

‘If such distance cannot be maintained, acceptable face coverings must be worn at all times by all individuals on the vessel.’ 

While low-risk outdoor activities like visiting zoos and botanical gardens are permitted, indoor dining is still banned.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently threatened to reimpose stricter lockdown measures after video surfaced on social media showing large crowds gathered outside bars and restaurants around the city.

Bars and restaurants in New York City were finally allowed to offer outdoor service on June 22 after an excruciating, 14-week closure that crippled the economy and put many out of business.

Indoor dining is indefinitely postponed, due in part to the huge surge in cases being seen in other states where it was allowed to resume.

Many bars and restaurants had been offering take-out throughout the pandemic which created a problem of people gathering in streets with drinks.

As a result, Cuomo tightened the rules. Now, anyone who sits down at an outdoor bar or restaurant must order food with their alcohol drinks.

While many have adhered to the rules strictly, others have flouted them.

The White Horse Tavern in the West Village had its liquor license suspended for repeatedly violating social distancing rules.

Others, like Lola Taverna in Soho, have been the subject of complaints from New Yorkers.

In recent weeks, a worrying number of ‘mask-free pandemic parties’ popped up all over the city.

New York, which was the epicenter of the pandemic when it began in the spring, has contained the virus recently even as it surges in other parts of the country.

The state recorded three new deaths on Saturday and 556 people hospitalized, a decrease of 25 patients from the previous day.

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