Salvage Operation Continues for Sunken Barge off Newport, RI

View at the scene. Photo/USCG

A barge that sank on October 30 below the Newport/Pell Bridge has sparked an interagency effort to remove the vessel. The construction barge was supporting a painting operation on the Newport/Pell Bridge when it sank in rough weather.

On the barge’s deck were several pieces of large equipment, including large air compressors and vacuums, a grit reclaimer, along with a generator and three 1,000-gallon diesel fuel tanks. While the total combined capacity of the tanks and equipment is estimated at 3,900 gallons of diesel fuel, only 2,400 gallons is reportedly on board.

The unified command, which includes the U.S. Coast Guard, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Save The Bay, Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and Abhe & Svoboda, Inc., owner of the barge and RITBA contractor, engaged the services of a local salvage company to assess the barge’s position on the bottom of Narragansett Bay and to devise a recovery plan. Divers engaged in that assessment this week discovered the barge to be lying upside down on the bottom, partially submerged in mud. The equipment on the barge is wedged between the barge and the bottom of the Bay, leaving the barge in an inclined position of about 45° relative to the bottom.

Captain Verne B. Gifford, Jr., Coast Guard Captain of the Port for southeastern New England, commented, “When divers confirmed the position of the barge this week we realized this was going to be a complex salvage operation. While it will take a little longer, the unified command agreed that it was important to bring the right resources to conduct the operation in a safe and efficient manner”. On Saturday, Abhe & Svoboda secured a commitment from a national salvage contractor that has indicated they are able to begin survey and salvage operations next week.

Minor oil sheening has occasionally been detected in the vicinity of the barge and approximately 1,500 feet of containment and oil-absorbent boom has been deployed on the surface around the barge’s location to contain the sheen and to protect nearby Rose Island. Along with the Coast Guard, a pollution response contractor has been hired to continuously monitor the site and contain any pollution originating from the barge. Contingency plans are also being developed and equipment is pre-positioned to protect nearby sensitive areas.

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