The capsized barge B2002 on the bank of the Hudson River in front of tug Dory Barker. The Coast Guard is investigating why this barge plus one other broke from their tug Buchanan 12 as it prepared for a port-to-port meeting with another vessel at Con Hook. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard is investigating whether human error caused a tugboat to push one of its barges into a rock outcropping along the Hudson River, sending two barges out of control.
The tug Buchanan 12 was pushing 13 scow barges downriver when the casualty happened at 0400 on Sept. 11 near Bear Mountain Bridge. The Coast Guard said one barge struck the rocks on the starboard side at Con Hook, causing that barge plus one other to come loose from the string.
Barge C546, which struck the rocks, took on water and sank. The other barge, B2002, drifted 1.5 miles downriver, capsized, dumped its cargo of crushed stone and grounded at the river’s west bank near Iona Island.
Another vessel, traveling upriver, was going past Buchanan 12 when the tug traveled too far to starboard, said Coast Guard investigator Lt. Thomas Casey. Several conditions made the moment particularly hazardous, he said.
As another vessel traveling upriver approached, Buchanan 12 prepared for a port-to-port meeting, but the tug moved too far to starboard, bringing the barges toward the rocks along the shore.
“There was a passing arrangement made with another vessel, and there was an ebb tide,” Casey said. “It’s definitely a choke point in the river. It’s a place that can be tight.”
Buchanan 12’s configuration was a row of four barges directly forward of the tug, with three rows of three barges ahead of the row of four, Casey said. C546 was the fourth in the row of four. B2002 was next to C546.
In a statement, Buchanan Marine of New Haven, Conn., said all of Buchanan 12’s navigation equipment was in working order. The 3,000-hp twin-screw tug was pushing the loads of crushed stone from Clinton Point, N.Y., to the Greenville mooring in Upper New York Harbor.
Casey said the weather shouldn’t have posed a problem for the tug crew. Although there was a light mist, “They had plenty of visibility,” he said.
Buchanan 12’s master and mate were on watch at the time, Casey said. Both subsequently passed their drug and alcohol tests.
The Coast Guard ruled that the two barges posed no danger to other marine traffic. Buchanan Marine placed markers in the water to alert passing mariners. The Coast Guard required another tug to escort Buchanan 12 and the 11 remaining barges to their scheduled destination.
Buchanan hired Donjon Marine Co. of Hillside, N.J., to salvage B2002, which was repaired, and to remove the wrecked C546.
Donjon used a 1,000-ton capacity boomable derrick barge. The salvage crew lifted the capsized B2002 barge and turned it over using rolling slings in a parbuckling configuration. The barge was in 25 feet of water.
C546 lay on the river bottom, straight up, in 60 feet of water. It was in an area where the bottom rapidly dropped off to 200 feet. John Witte Jr., Donjon’s executive vice president, said the company used the crane barge Michigan and a chopper beam “like a great big chisel” to slice the barge into sections so the crane could lift them. First, Donjon was able to retrieve much of the crushed stone.
“The thing that made it a little interesting was the C546 … was on the bottom with a significant portion of the load remaining,” Witte said. “She was not only deep, but she was on the bank. We were concerned she would slide down deeper. It is difficult, not only the depth but also the angle.”
While the crew was chopping it up, the barge did slide down to a depth of 75 to 80 feet. That didn’t present a major problem for the Donjon crew, Witte said, and the cut-up barge was removed.
For centuries, mariners have known about Con Hook and its hazards. Con Hook is so confining that Gen. George Washington even considered constructing a huge boom and chain across the river there to trap British warships during the American Revolution.