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Donjon Marine Co. Recovers Sunken Barge Near R.I.’s Newport Pell Bridge

Fri January 13, 2012 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

This is a story about some very heavy lifting, deep sea diving and an emergency construction salvage operation called in to salvage a major construction rehab operation.

Donjon Marine Co. of New Jersey was called to Rhode Island’s Newport Pell Bridge in November to raise a barge that sank in 100 ft. (30.5 m) of water after an early New England nor’easter whipped it sideways and down. Donjon salvage crews, armed with a 1,000-ton (907 t) floating crane, worked around the clock to assess the situation and secure successful recovery efforts.

The barge in question is part of an ongoing multi-million dollar maintenance and repair project on the iconic Newport Pell Bridge continuing through winter. It is used as a platform for painting supplies and disposal equipment.

The barge had been cleared of hazardous supplies but several diesel fuel tanks were of immediate concern to local state, federal and environmental officials. Donjon Marine’s Vice President of Operations, Paul Hankins, was on scene as quickly as possible, telling local reporters that divers were in the water, assessing damage since their arrival on scene over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Hankins explained that the 300-ton (272 t) barge had flipped over as it sank to the floor of the sea and the 1,000-ton Chesapeake Crane would raise it.

Help From New Jersey

While other, closer marine salvage crews bid to handle the project, Rhode Island went to New Jersey for immediate help. Donjon was contacted by owners of the barge. They surveyed the job and prepared a proposal which was accepted by the owners and their underwriters.

“This project required experience in heavy lift salvage, deep water diving, working under a bridge where access and station keeping are essential to a safe and productive operation and overall experience in salvage operations, to name a few,” said John A. Witte, Jr., executive vice president of Donjon Marine Co. Inc. “Donjon Marine brings all of these capabilities and over 40 years of cost-effective service in response to the needs of the marine community to the table. I am aware that other local and U.S.-based salvors were asked to provide a proposal. Based upon the review of all the proposals by owners and their insurers, Donjon was selected.”

Donjon has performed hundreds of salvage operations in or around the New England area over the last 30 years. One of the more well-known was the salvage of the tug “Scandia” and barge “North Cape” off Point Judith, Rhode Island eight years ago.

“A few years ago, the Chesapeake was used to recover a pair of tugs that had sunk at the pier and were leaking oil. While not as complicated a job, it is indicative of its capability,” added Witte.

A Massive Crane

The Chesapeake 1000 is a 1,000-ton rated capacity derrick barge which is certified by both the USCG and ABS for operations in all maritime environments. In addition to salvage, The Chesapeake 1000 provides the following additional services: Heavy lift stevedoring, construction support and marine demolition.

Hankins described the recent barge operation:

“The barge, after it sank, was easily located since there were still sandblasting hoses attached to it from the bridge deck. A scuba diving team went down and initially surveyed the barge. Based on that survey, Donjon prepared a preliminary salvage plan to refloat the barge after it was parbuckled [righted from its inverted, upside down, position],” said Hankins. “[Once the plan was approved by the owners] we immediately mobilized a few people to the site to begin the coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, state officials and owners that is always necessary in these types of events. We also began mobilization of equipment onto the Chesapeake and the dive barge that would be transiting up from New York.

“A second dive was made on the wreck and it was discovered that there was a 20-foot gash down the centerline of the bottom of the barge. This indicated the barge might not be refloatable, so contingencies began to be formulated in the event the barge could not be refloated,” added Hankins. “The first step was to place the barge in a four-point moor above the wreck. Since holding ground in the area was not that good, we decided to place six anchors to ensure a safe working environment. Once moored, we began dive operations in 90-feet of water to survey and rig slings.”

Lifting the Barge

The Donjon plan was to lift the barge off the bottom, move it to a shallower location away from any bridge structure, pump off any remaining fuel in the fuel tanks, parbuckle the barge to an upright position, and then refloat or lift it out of the water.

“Over a one-week period, divers placed a set of slings under the barge. It took this long since divers could only spend 50 minutes at a time on the bottom, and we could only dive during the hour [through] either side of slack water because of the current strength making diving too difficult,” said Hankins.

“Because the barge was sitting on the bottom in the mud, to make room for the slings, mud had to be airlifted out from around the barge so that slings could be passed underneath,” he added. “This is accomplished by pumping air into a long vertical metal cylinder, about two-feet in diameter [about 40-feet long]. The rising air inside the cylinder causes suction at the bottom of the cylinder, pulling up mud that is discharged with the air out the top of the cylinder.”

Once the slings were in place, the barge was lifted off the bottom. With the barge resting in the slings, two tugs helped recover five of the six anchors. Once recovered, using the last anchor as a pivot point, the Chesapeake pivoted around out from under the bridge to an anchorage just to the north of the bridge. Once re-located, three more anchors were set to reestablish the four-point moor.

“Once re-moored, divers placed wands attached to hoses leading to a pump on the deck of Chesapeake into the fuel tanks. Over 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel was pumped from three 1,000-gallon fuel tanks and smaller service tanks attached to individual pieces of equipment,” said Hankins.

After the fuel removal was complete, the barge was lifted to the water’s surface. Water was allowed to drain out of the large gash on the bottom and some additional water was pumped from the barge using submersible pumps placed into the aft holds through access covers. Eventually the barge was lifted clear of the water. A larger deck barge was maneuvered underneath the wreck and the wreck was set down on the deck, recovery complete.

“The barge was re-delivered to our clients at that point. It was set on another deck barge and was taken to Senesco Repair for surveying. We then went back and recovered whatever equipment remained in the old footprint of the sunken barge [several sand blasting pots and a conex box],” added the project manager.

Donjon crews were in daily conference calls with the Coast Guard, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the owners, underwriters, environmental groups and other concerned parties.

“There were generally 11 to15 people on the call every evening. In addition, daily situation reports were issued to keep everyone apprised of our progress,” said Hankins. “From our arrival on scene to [the] finish, the job took 33 days, which includes 10 days of mobilization and several days of non-work over Thanksgiving and some administrative hurdles we had to get through. All in all, the actual job took about three weeks.”

The divers used to perform any in-water requirements, especially the rigging of slings, the airlifting operations and surveying, spend about 50 minutes on the bottom and then a couple of hours in a decompression chamber after each dive. The actual rigging operations are done with surface-supplied air to hard-hat divers.

The slings that were used, Hankins added, are known as triflex slings and are in fact three large metal wires (cables) twisted together to make a single sling wire, much like a suspension bridge’s tension cables are twisted together. The slings, about 12 in. (30 cm) in diameter, are sized to be able to lift the intended loads (about 350 tons, (318 t) in this case). Two of these slings were used to lift the wreck.

Hankins said that The Coast Guard’s number one objective was to prevent further spillage of oil from the remaining three tanks with a reported 2,400 gal. (9,085 L) of fuel still in them. “We took great care not to disturb these tanks as we did our work,” he said.

Donjon’s Solid History

Based on a longstanding family of experienced marine professionals, Donjon Marine is an organization that is dedicated to, and empowered by, the strength of its people; their experience and the assets that allow the company to always be in a position to manage any and all challenges — on sea and land.

Already a leader in dredging and marine salvage, Donjon continues to explore opportunities to expand its role in the marine industry and beyond.

Since its incorporation in 1966 by Arnold Witte, Donjon Marine has established and continues to seek long-term client relationships in a world where limited business resources demand a constant balancing of expenditures.

Beginning with its foundation in the New York area as a pioneer in marine salvage services, Donjon has grown to become a leader in both conventional and environmental dredging.

Their areas of expertise also include recycling, land and marine demolition, pollution control and remediation, heavy lift transport, marine transportation and landfill remediation/site management.

With the creation of Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair LLC — their latest addition to their family of services — Donjon controls the largest shipyard of its kind on the Great Lakes, utilizing years of experience and knowledge to meet the needs of an ever-growing industry to provide shipbuilding, dry-docking, ship repair, barge construction, vessel conversion, repowering, maintenance, steel fabrication, steel assembly, and other related services through the Great Lakes region and beyond.

Donjon operates the largest heavy lift crane on the East Coast. The next largest is about half the size. It is therefore used throughout the East Coast (and gulf) when jobs requiring lifts of the Newport Pell Bridge magnitude are required.

Of course the success of their jobs is due to the expertise and experience of their employees, most of who have been with the company for many years. Specific credit goes to Project Manager Hankins, Billy Kratz, salvage master and Frank Anthony and Vinnie DelMaestro, the master crane operators. Frank has been with the Chesapeake for more than 30 years and is a profound reason for its multiple successes.

“Of course, all the divers should be individually credited, but there were six-to-eight of them, all of whom worked long hard hours,” added Hankins.

While the Newport capsizing was not as difficult or as formidable as other deep water jobs, Donjon crews have to be ever vigilant.

“Every job has its moments when seas and weather make work impossible. The trick is to ride out the storms so that you can return afterwards and continue the jobs,” said Hankins. “Sometimes, the weather and seas are unrelenting and Mother Nature wins, taking the to-be-salvaged wreck to a position where it makes it either impossible or not cost effective to continue the recovery. Such is the nature of salvage work. But the toughest to endure? We all have our own individual stories and they are all tough.”

And what is next for Donjon’s massive Chesapeake 1000 crane?

“The next job is probably some heavy lift stevedoring, but one never knows when a salvage job will arise and we are always here to respond,” said Hankins.

For more information, visit, or call 908/353-2600.

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