2012-02-09 / News

Salvage of sunken barge completed

After three months of work, the final pieces of the work barge that sank beneath the Newport Pell Bridge in late 2011 were recovered Feb. 3.

During the clean up and recovery operation, representatives from the Coast Guard, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and the contractor operating the barge, Abhe & Svoboda, worked together in a unified command to ensure the safe recovery of the barge, painting equipment, generators and an estimated 2,900 gallons of diesel fuel and other oil products that were aboard the barge that sank Oct. 30.

DEM’s Office of Emergency Response took initial action to assess the situation and ensure that potentially at risk sensitive environments would be protected from any oil that could be released. Secondary to that was to work to remove the source of the risk.

In the first days of the response, divers were employed to assess the condition of the barge. The divers were able to confirm that the sunken barge was not impeding large cargo vessel traffic that moves under the bridge in the navigable channel.

“But we also learned that the barge had flipped while it sank and was laying on a slope between 80 and 100 feet of water,” said Cmdr. Paul Lattanzi, the Coast Guard’s incident commander for the response. “It quickly became apparent that no local resources could safely conduct the complex salvage operation that was required.”

Abhe & Svoboda hired Donjon Marine, an international salvage company based in New Jersey, to salvage the sunken barge.

To ensure the safety of the public and the Newport Pell Bridge, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority coordinated closely with the operators of Donjon’s recovery crane and had spotters on the underside of the bridge during the hoisting operations.

“We commend the entire team for the cooperative manner in which all worked to raise the barge safely and with extreme caution to minimize any environmental impacts,” said David Darlington, RITBA chairman. “This is the best example of a can-do effort, and we can all be proud of the results.”

The barge was successfully raised from the waters below the bridge Dec. 9. However, several pieces of equipment had broken free of the barge and remained on the bottom, including a generator, which was reported to have over 400 gallons of diesel in its tank.

“So long as there is the threat of an oil spill, the Coast Guard must ensure there is no violation of the Clean Water Act,” said Chief Petty Officer Sean Baker, who oversaw the day-to-day operations.

Additional pieces of equipment were recovered in January and February, including the 90,000-pound steel shot used in the painting process of the bridge.

“We are thrilled to have successfully completed our salvage effort,” said Jerry Burbank of Abhe & Svoboda. “I am especially grateful for the help and guidance of the members of the unified command, the salvage companies and for the workers involved. I was impressed by the level of professionalism demonstrated by all who assisted us in completing such a difficult undertaking.”

“Few salvage operations go as quickly as hoped,” said Capt. Verne Gifford. “My goal of working cooperatively with our partners to ensure the safety of responders, the public, and the waterway was met. This has been a very successful operation.”

The recovery barge with the SEI-34 is currently moored at Senesco Marine in North Kingstown, awaiting good weather for transit to New Bedford, Mass., where the SEI-34 and equipment will be refurbished or scrapped.

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