Removing stuck barge filled with ash could cost millions

A barge that could pose a environmental threat near Mayport may be one step closer to a safe salvage.

MAYPORT, Fla. – A barge that could pose a environmental threat near Mayport may be one step closer to a safe salvage.

The ship has been stranded off Hanna Park since March 22 and experts worry it could leak toxic chemicals into the ocean.

Tuesday, after two weeks of no apparent progress, a barge with a crane showed up. Crew members were driving a large piling -- called a spud -- to keep the damaged barge in place. Later in the afternoon, another spud barge and two tugs arrived.

Moran Towing’s Bridgeport Barge hit the jetties in bad weather, Coast Guard members said. The agency noted it was filled with 12,000 tons of ash from coal fired plants. The agency did not say where the ash was coming from or where it was headed, but many believe it was going to a port in Jacksonville and then a landfill in Southeast Georgia.

It’s been anchored off Hanna Park Beach with Moran-contracted tugboats keeping watch. Surfers and environmentalists worry that it could sink or dump chemicals like mercury and arsenic into the water.

“If it breaks or fails, the cargo will be open to the environment,” said Scott Anderson, the president of Logan Diving and Salvage.

Anderson isn’t on this operation, but he and his team specialize in marine emergency and salvage operations from Florida to Puerto Rico.

“These are floating oil and pollution booms,” he said, pointing to large yellow barriers in his warehouse. “Those can be deployed around a vessel in the event there’s a leak of any material inside of it.”

However, Anderson noted they only work in calm waters. Rough seas like last week’s nor’easter would cause spillage to get out.

Moran hasn’t explained to the public its plans, but Anderson says they’ll try to repair the damaged hull, which is likely sitting on the bottom 25 to 30 feet below. If they can, they’ll pump the water out and possibly remove the cargo onto another vessel. But it’s easier said than done. Divers may have to go inside the compartments and moving a 418-foot barge is a big task.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if it took a month or two,” Moran said.

Weather is a big factor and rough seas will make it harder. He said the accident could cost Moran millions. He said the Coast Guard would oversee environmental concerns and would have to give the company approval before it could tow the vessel to port.

News4Jax has tried calling and emailing the barge’s owner, Moran Towing, since the incident happened. So far, the company has not responded.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.