Lightering required to free soybean barges that ran aground in St. Lawrence Seaway

Two dry cargo hopper barges filled with soybeans grounded in the St. Lawrence Seaway in the American Narrows near Alexandria Bay, N.Y.

The grounding occurred Oct. 24, 2010, at approximately 0530 as the 130-foot Canadian tug Commodore Straits was pushing the barges side-by-side. The tow was downbound on a scheduled voyage from Oshawa, Ontario, to Prescott, Ontario.

The vessels got stuck just south of fixed light 199 near Alexandria Bay. The aid to navigation was in the proper position and functioning, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman George Degener.

“The tug itself did not ground, just the two barges, which both sustained minor hull damage,” Degener said. “The cause of the grounding, including mechanical damage, possible human error, etc., is still under investigation.”

The barges needed to be lightered, said Leon Rusho Jr., president of salvor RJ Marine Associates.

“They were on the wrong side of the buoy and slid up on the rocks,” Rusho said. “One barge had 200 tons aboard and the second had 600 tons. We had to unload them before they could be floated free with the tugs to assist. The is a lot of current in the river here, and upriver to Clayton, so we needed to hold the barges in position during lightering.”

The barges were BIG 503 and BIG 551. The owner of all the vessels is MarineLink Inc., based in Toronto.

The Coast Guard responded with a 25-foot response boat from Station Alexandria Bay, Degener said. Coast Guard Sector Buffalo broadcast a warning for all vessels to reduce speed while transiting between Cape Vincent, N.Y., and Eisenhower Lock in Massena, N.Y.

Abaco Marine Towing LLC and Patch Seaway International also joined the salvage operation after consulting with the vessel owners, Coast Guard and Seaway authorities said. RJ Marine mobilized a full salvage crew which included Abaco’s tug Bowditch and two landing craft: the 135-foot Thor’s Hammer and 74-foot Maple Grove.

A third empty barge arrived and was handed off to Bowditch and positioned at Clayton, N.Y., to receive the lightered cargo.

Two large excavators and a crane were loaded aboard Thor’s Hammer at Clayton and moved to the site of the grounding for unloading. Poor weather delayed the unloading, which was completed by Oct. 27.

Once both barges refloated, they were pushed upriver to Clayton by Commodore Straits with the assistance of Bowditch. At Clayton, the Coast Guard inspected the damage to the barges, and minor repairs were made. The tow was then reassembled and, with Bowditch as escort, continued downriver to Prescott.

“The BIG 551 took the brunt of the damage and is still in the shipyard at Prescott, Ontario,” said Bob Matthews, an official with MarineLink affiliate Upper Lakes Shipping. “I doubt that the barges will be back in service by the end of the season, which ends mid-December.”

The Coast Guard said that weather did not appear to be a factor in the grounding, and there was no pollution or injuries.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff