Officials continue probe of sunken tug, prepare to return boat to owner

2 victims still missing

barge expected to be raised early this week

Channel closed to shipping

March 04, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

ELK NECK STATE PARK - Coast Guard officers continued their inspection of a sunken tugboat on the Elk River yesterday, preparing to return the vessel to its owners, who will tow it back to Virginia.

The bodies of two missing crew members, Ronald L. Bonniville of Hayes, Va., and Clarence McConnell of McClellanville, S.C., were recovered Saturday night. Two others, captain William Bryant, of Virginia Beach, Va., and his nephew, deckhand Justin Bryant of Supply, N.C., were still missing yesterday.

The two bodies were taken to the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore. Maryland Department of Natural Resources police, who investigate all deaths on the state's waterways, were still searching for the Bryants, said DNR spokesman Charles Porcari.

Survivors said Bonniville and McConnell were in their bunks when the tug sank, and that is where they were found Saturday. Witnesses said the Bryants made it off the boat but were pulled under.

The tug, the Swift, was moved out of the channel on Saturday, but shipping will not resume until the Army Corps of Engineers certifies the channel's safety. Officials had no estimate yesterday of when that might happen.

On Saturday, dozens of relatives of the victims gathered with others on the banks of the Elk River at Town Point to watch the raising of the tug, but the scene was quiet yesterday, with a few residents watching the salvage work through binoculars.

Coast Guard officials are making final checks of the vessel's structural integrity before releasing it to its owner, Norfolk Dredging Co. of Chesapeake, Va., which plans to tow it back to Norfolk, Va., Coast Guard spokeswoman Krys Johnson said.

Salvage crews have turned their attention to a barge that sunk at the same time as the Swift. They expect it will be ready to be raised early this week, Johnson said. The barge sank outside the channel, so shipping could be resumed before it is raised.

The Swift sank on the morning of Feb. 24 when its convoy of tugs and barges collided in a thick bank of fog near the Town Point peninsula south of Chesapeake City with a 520-foot freighter, the A.V. Kastner. The Coast Guard is investigating the accident.

The tug's owner hired Ellsworth Salvage of Camden, N.J., to raise the vessels and Atlantic Environmental Services of Joppatowne to contain environmental contamination from the salvage operation.

About 100 gallons of diesel fuel and five gallons of motor oil were released when the boat was raised, but the contaminants were quickly absorbed, Coast Guard officials said.

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