Crew flees just as tugboat capsizes, sinks at N.H. bridge project

A tugboat working on a bridge reconstruction project in Portsmouth, N.H., was caught in a strong current, capsized and sank. The two crewmembers escaped just in time.

Benjamin Bailey’s troubles began just after noon on Oct. 24, 2012, said Lt. Nick Barrow of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England. The tug, owned by Riverside and Pickering Marine Contractors of Eliot, Maine, was involved in reconstructing the Memorial Bridge spanning the Piscataqua River.

The Coast Guard received a report that Bailey was being pushed up against a barge and was in danger of capsizing, Barrow said.

“The strong outgoing current was pinning the tug against the barge and ultimately capsized it” after the two crewmembers on board escaped onto the barge.

Ken Anderson, a partner in Riverside and Pickering, said a deck hand was on the tug deck and the captain, who was in the wheelhouse, escaped through a door. No one was injured.

The tug came to rest upside down on the river bottom with just the keel section of the bow above the surface.

Barrow said some diesel fuel escaped from fuel vents before they were plugged by divers. He said the strong current “presented a very precarious” situation for the salvors. “There was only about a 30- to 40-minute window every six hours just prior to slack water to just afterwards that provided the opportunity to put a diver down for plugging vents or fastening airbags,” he said.

Most of the diesel fuel that was released into the river was not recovered because it was a small quantity, but some was captured by absorbent booms positioned downstream of the barge.

The tug was raised Oct. 28-29 by its owner and contractors and towed to its home port.

Anderson said the 1,200-hp twin-screw tug — built in 1968 and rebuilt in 2011 — was a total loss.

Benjamin Bailey’s accident was at the same project in which a towing vessel was partially flooded in February 2012 after the current pushed it broadside to the flow and water washed into a compartment because a hatch was not dogged down securely.

By Professional Mariner Staff