Tug captain intentionally runs barge aground after it starts flooding

A dredge barge that began taking on water in San Francisco Bay was intentionally grounded to prevent it from sinking and to reduce the threat of a fuel spill in deeper water.

The 64-foot tug San Joaquin River and the 230-foot barge TS & G 230 were operating near Harding Rock on the morning of Feb. 15 when the crew discovered water flowing into the engine room, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.

The tug's captain notified the Coast Guard, then directed the barge toward shore for about two miles until it ran aground at 0730 near the St. Francis Yacht Club. The vessel, with a draft of 13.4 feet, came to rest on a sandbar in less than 12 feet of water.

"It was determined that the best course of action was to intentionally ground the barge," said Lt. j.g. Laura Williams, spokeswoman for Coast Guard Sector San Francisco. "This would prevent it from sinking in deep water."


Government agencies respond to a barge that was intentionally run aground in San Francisco Bay after it began taking on water during a dredge operation. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Sherri Eng)

Containment and absorbent booms were placed around the barge, which was carrying about 3,000 tons of sand and rock and 3,600 gallons of fuel. A light sheen was reported in the water at the grounding site, but the Coast Guard determined that it was residual pollution.

"The fuel tanks were never compromised," said Robert Gregory, regional operations manager for Foss Maritime Co., which owns the tug and the barge. "We did get some oil coming out of the engine vents when the engine room was flooded. That's the only oil that escaped."

The barge was refloated in the evening after the water was pumped out and about 700 tons of sand and rock were unloaded, Williams said. The vessel was inspected for structural integrity and then moved to Oakland Harbor at about 2230.

While the U.S. Coast Guard has not issued a final report on the incident, Williams said a preliminary investigation indicated that a loose cover on the bow could have allowed water into the barge. Gregory said Foss Maritime had determined that an access panel failed, allowing water to flow into ventilation shafts that lead to the engine room.

Weather conditions were not cited as a factor. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 7-knot winds and 1- to 3-foot seas at the time of the incident.

Gregory said the barge sustained water damage "in the hundreds of thousands of dollars." He said the vessel had been repaired and would soon be back in service.


National Response Center's Ruben Lope siphons off fuel from the grounded barge. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Sherri Eng)

"All of the systems are being checked right now and we're hoping everything is back on line this week," he said on March 28.

All six crewmembers on the tug and barge were tested for drugs and alcohol, Williams said. The results were negative.

The Coast Guard dispatched the cutters Hawksbill and Tern in response to the incident, along with a 25-foot boat from Station Golden Gate and an MH-65 helicopter from Air Station San Francisco. Crews from the National Response Center provided pollution control.

Gregory said the salvage effort was assisted by Dutra Dredging, which brought a dump scow and a crane barge to the scene to partially unload the grounded barge.

No injuries were reported.

By Professional Mariner Staff