Tug righted, anchored by crews at C&D Canal

Tides, fuel-spill fear complicate salvage

May 20, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

DELAWARE CITY, Del. - With the smell of leaking diesel fuel lingering in the air, salvage workers raised the sunken tug Bay Titan nearly three-quarters of the way out of the Delaware River yesterday and tied it to an anchorage point just south of the mouth of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

Delaware State Police Cpl. Walter Newton said crews had not been able to board the vessel to search for the body of 45-year-old crew member Steve Pollert, but hoped to do so as the recovery effort continues this morning.

Pollert is believed to have been trapped inside the tug when it capsized May 11 while towing a sugar barge around a bend at the mouth of the canal.

The salvage crew suspended its dewatering of the tug about 10:30 p.m. yesterday. The crew was expected to resume pumping at daylight today.

"After the dewatering is complete, the state police will conduct their investigation," said Lt. Richard E. Neiman Jr. with the U.S. Coast Guard Philadelphia Group marine safety office.

Neiman said that if the state police find a body on board, as expected, they will conduct an investigation of the death.

After the investigation is concluded, Neiman said, the discussion will turn to how to move the vessel and where it should go.

Visible damage to the tug, as it lay anchored in about 23 feet of water, included a broken window in the wheelhouse, crushed antennas and radar apparatus on top of the wheelhouse, and gnarled and crushed rails on the deck.

The canal reopened early Friday after being closed to ship traffic for a week. How much traffic was affected by the canal's closing remains unclear, though the Maryland Port Administration has said that three major vessels use the 19-mile-long canal on a typical day.

The canal is a vital shortcut for shipping companies that travel between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Salvage workers used a large crane to begin turning the upside-down Bay Titan at 9:35 a.m. yesterday. They had earlier surrounded the tug with a yellow floating boom to contain fuel and oil that leaked from the vessel.

Shortly after 10 a.m., the boat was righted and the crane began to lift it slowly. With the tide going out, however, workers halted the recovery effort until the tide shifted again late in the afternoon.

The Delaware River's swift tidal currents have complicated the salvage operation from the beginning, and compounded the risk of a fuel leak. The Bay Titan is estimated to be carrying more than 43,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

North of the anchorage where the Bay Titan rests is Pea Patch Island nature preserve, one of the largest nesting sites for wading birds, such as herons and egrets, on the East Coast.

"Hopefully, the booms around [the Bay Titan] can contain the fuel," said Cpl. Anthony W. Knott, an enforcement agent with Delaware's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Knott was on duty the day the Bay Titan went down near the canal's opening to the Delaware River. He and two civilians who arrived on the scene seconds before him managed to save four of the five crew members.

"It was completely sunk when I got there, and I was there in five minutes," Knott said. He said he received the emergency call on the radio at 11:34 a.m. and was at the scene at 11:39 a.m.

"You could barely see the tip of the bow," Knott said. "What amazed me the most was how quickly it went down. If [the two civilians] weren't there, I wouldn't have had time to save all of them. I had never seen [anything] of that magnitude."

Officials from Bay Towing Co., the Norfolk, Va.-based firm that owns the Bay Titan, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sun staff writer Johnathon E. Briggs contributed to this article.

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