Rust causes 83-year-old dredge to flood, sink in Erie Canal

A rusted-out through-hull fitting caused a dredge to sink in the Erie Canal in June, according to its owner, the New York State Canal Corp.
The 10-inch hydraulic cutter-head dredge named HD1 was built in 1926. The steel-hulled dredge, one of five owned by the corporation, sank while unattended June 13, said Canal Corp. Director Carmella Mantello. It was raised by a Florida-based salvage firm, Titan Salvage, almost a month later.

“We’re evaluating whether it will be put back into operation” or scrapped, Mantello said.

The dredge — 90 feet long, 26 feet wide and weighing more than 290 tons — was in Palmyra, N.Y., to remove sediment from the canal. On June 11, the crew secured the vessel for the weekend and on the evening of June 13 there was a call to 911 that the vessel had sunk, Mantello said. The corporation was notified and contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation which, with the local fire department, installed booms to contain any pollution. The dredge was carrying an estimated 2,000 gallons of fuel on board. “There was a little bit of a sheen on the water but no environmental damage,” Mantello said.

The next day the corporation issued a notice to mariners that a 10-mile section of the canal between Lock E-28B in Newark and Lock E-29 in Palmyra was being closed so authorities could assess the situation. The canal was reopened that evening and then closed periodically, and the water level reduced by five feet during salvage operations.

On the 16th, the corporation brought in an environmental cleanup firm, Op-Tech Environmental Services, to survey the vessel and help with its recovery effort that began on June 17. Corporation employees tried to pump out the water, but the effort was unsuccessful.

So Titan was hired at a cost estimated to be $88,000. Gage Parrot, Titan’s director of operations in the Western Hemisphere, said divers sealed openings in the hull by building a cofferdam of sandbags around the cutter head and placing plywood patches over smaller openings on the first day. The next day, July 9, the six crewmembers used four 4-inch submersible pumps to test whether the hull was watertight and ended up raising the vessel from nine feet of water during the test.

The next day the barge was transported 13 nm east to a corporation dry dock in Lyons, N.Y. There, Maritime Alliance Group determined the vessel was sunk by a rusted-out section of a 4-inch engine-room through-hull fitting that was part of a capped and no-longer-active steam piping system that originally powered the dredge. The dredge had been powered with diesel engines.

The rusted out section, about three quarters of an inch in diameter, allowed initial flooding that lowered the freeboard at the bow enough for water to come through other openings at deck level and sink the dredge.

“This was the first time since the 1930s that something of this magnitude occurred” in the Erie Canal, Mantello said. In response to the sinking, the corporation plans to have a salvage company on retainer to expedite the response in any future incidents.

The corporation had no estimate of the value of the dredge. •

Bill Bleyer

By Professional Mariner Staff