An oil barge struck bottom and was holed in Long Island Sound because the mate steering the tug pushing it cut a turn too close to a reef marked by a lighthouse, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
There was no oil pollution because only the outer hull of the double-hull barge was breached in the Jan. 22 incident. The barge was carrying 140,000 barrels of home heating oil.
The tug Meredith C. Reinauer, owned by Reinauer Transportation of Staten Island, N.Y., was pushing a company barge from Bayonne, N.J., to Revere, Mass., when the barge hit bottom more than 100 yards north of Stepping Stones Lighthouse at 1408, said Lt. Marie Castillo-Bletso, the Coast Guard accident investigator.
“They were too close to the lighthouse,” she said. “The mate who was behind the wheel said that he made a mistake. Typically when you’re in that area you want to make a more rounded turn because even though they were in the channel, you have rocks and varying depths and you want to be careful.”
At the time, it was clear with visibility of more than 7 miles, and there were 1-foot seas with winds under 15 knots from the northwest. The tug and barge were traveling at about 12 knots.
The water depth in the area varies from 19 feet to more than 40 feet. The barge when loaded, as it was, draws 27 feet forward and 29 feet aft. “If you cut it too close, you go from 42 feet to 24,” Castillo-Bletso said.
There was a crew of seven onboard the tugboat and the mate “was very experienced,” she said. The tug and barge make the same trip several times a week. Drugs and alcohol were not an issue, she said.
After the barge hit bottom, the master contacted the Coast Guard and reported the barge was taking on water in a ballasting void.
The tug brought the barge to anchor off Hart Island, N.Y. A Coast Guard 41-foot response boat crew from Station Kings Point arrived quickly as did commercial divers from Randive Inc., who conducted an underwater survey of the hull. Miller Environmental Group, a commercial oil spill removal company, placed a boom around the barge as a precautionary measure and lightered the fuel from it.
Reinauer did not provide the Coast Guard with a damage estimate “but it was substantial,” Castillo-Bletso said. There was no damage to the tug.
Reinauer declined to comment on the incident.