Fort Pierce recovery and salvage operation update
Jacksonville, Fla. – Recovery and salvage operations continue in Fort Pierce today as a result of a barge that sank in the inlet Feb. 24. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District officials say operations will likely last through the rest of the week to remove the wreck and its debris field, which are limiting navigation in the Federal channel.
The Corps of Engineers issued an emergency contract to Resolve Marine Group to remove the sunken barge. Working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, the recovery team is preparing for the actual vessel lift operation. The Coast Guard is ensuring safe navigation at the inlet while recovery operations are ongoing.
Officials say the sunken barge is in an extremely challenging location – within the mouth of the inlet where currents are very tricky. Dive time for salvage team is currently limited to two to three hours daily during daylight hours due to the conditions. The operations are too risky to conduct at night. Team members are working with the Coast Guard to see if they can obtain additional equipment that provides better readings on the currents. This information may help provide a bigger time window for the underwater operations. In addition to weather and sea conditions, operations may be delayed if rocks or boulders under the wreck prevent divers from emplacing lift straps.
Using tug boats to assist, the RMG-400 barge moved into position this morning and deployed a mooring system to anchor the barge. The system includes wire cables running on each of the barge’s four corners attached to corresponding anchors. Winches allow the team to maneuver safely within the anchored area. During earlier operations, the salvage team conducted dive operations to remove hazards, entrapments, lines, etc., from the wreck. Divers also marked and mapped-out the entire barge area for placement of rigging straps, and mapped and marked passageways for the placement of lifting straps. Placing straps on and under the barge is the next step in the operation.
Initial work included using sonar technology and specialized divers to assess the debris field and identify areas within the inlet with sufficient depth for vessels to pass. Buoys were installed, which marked the debris field, to help boaters navigate safely through the inlet. The Coast Guard is allowing recreational and commercial vessels with less than 16-feet of draft to transit through this safety zone.
Over the weekend, the salvage crew erected an A-frame for lifting operations on the RMG-400. The crew continued RMG-400 barge preparations, preparing 4-point mooring spread equipment and operations for layout of the wreck removal. Crews also began formulating the ballast arrangement for the lift sequence. The experienced team is applying the latest science and technologies to analyze the situation, plan and safely perform the recovery and salvage operation.
The Corps anticipates the actual lifting and salvage operation will last the rest of this week, weather and other obstacles permitting, to ensure the area is safely cleared of debris. The U.S. Coast Guard anticipates closure of the inlet in its entirety during the actual removal process.