Coast Guard, unified command responding to sunken barge

Coast Guard District 1 NewsBOSTON — The U.S. Coast Guard, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Newport, R.I., Harbormaster, Save The Bay, Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and Abhe & Svoboda, Inc., owner of the barge and RITBA contractor, have set up a unified command in response to a sunken barge directly under the Newport/Pell Bridge in Newport, R.I.

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England received a report Sunday of a sunken barge near the east of the bridge pier that marks the east side of the navigation channel beneath the bridge.

The construction barge was being used in conjunction with a major painting operation on the Newport/Pell Bridge. On the barge’s deck were several pieces of large equipment, including large air compressors and vacuums, used for the painting operation. Although the barge itself contained no oil or fuel, there were several portable tanks and pieces of diesel run equipment secured to the deck.

The combined total capacity of the tanks and equipment is estimated at 3,900 gallons of diesel fuel, though only 2,400 gallons is reportedly onboard.

Divers surveyed the sunken barge Monday and plugged all accessible fuel tank vents to prevent leakage. Minor sheening has been detected above the barge and approximately 1,500 feet of oil-absorbent boom has been deployed on the surface around the barge’s location to contain the sheen. No sheen was observed Tuesday.

“Whenever there is a threat of an oil spill in the marine environment, the Coast Guard ensures that all responsible parties take appropriate actions and timely action to mitigate that threat,” said Cmdr. Paul Lattanzi, prevention department head, Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England. “I am happy to report that this is happening in this case.”

The unified command adopted a salvage plan Tuesday and salvage operations to raise the barge are scheduled to begin this week. The site will be continuously monitored by the Coast Guard and a pollution response contractor to detect and contain any pollution originating from the barge. Contingency plans are also being developed and equipment is pre-positioned to protect nearby sensitive areas.

“Save The Bay is coordinating with the Coast Guard, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and the contractors on booming strategies to protect sensitive areas and marine life” said John Torgan of Save The Bay. “At this time, we are not seeing any significant impacts.”

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