ASSATEAGUE — At least six boats have been seriously damaged by an unmarked dredge pipe submerged in shallow water in the main navigational channel in the Sinepuxent Bay near Assateague this week, prompting the Coast Guard to issue warnings to mariners and take action to remove the hazard.
There have been six confirmed cases of boats running afoul of the submerged dredge pipe in the main channel near Assateague just north of the Verrazano Bridge this week, likely costing boaters tens of thousands of dollars in damages. It is believed the dredge pipe belongs to a subcontractor working for the federal Army Corps of Engineers on a larger maintenance dredging project in the area.
Coast Guard Ocean City Officer Brandon Scott said on Thursday the Coast Guard was aware of the navigation hazard and was in the process of taking steps to have it removed.
“We are aware of it,” he said. “I don’t know the timetable for getting it removed. Coast Guard Station Ocean City doesn’t do aids to navigation work, so our Aids to Navigation team will come in and get a diver in the water and eventually get that pipe cut out.”
Also on Thursday, Coast Guard Sector Baltimore Waterways Management Division reported based on information received from the dredge company it was issuing a notice to mariners alerting them of the ongoing work in the Sinepuxent Bay and the potential hazards. The notice to mariners will continue to be broadcast through the life of the project, expected to be completed late next month.
“Maintenance dredging continues in Sinepuxent Bay near Ocean City through October 2015,” the Coast Guard’s notice to mariners issued on Thursday reads. “The dredging equipment includes a dredge, pipelines, anchors, barges and other equipment located in and out of the channel, 24 hours a day and seven days per week with pipeline crossing the Ocean City Inlet. Mariners are urged to use caution when transiting the area and approach the dredge at slow speed and pass with caution after contacting the Goodloe Marine, Inc. dredge ‘Tenacious’ via marine band radio VHF-FM channel 16 and 68 for passing instructions.”
For several boaters, the notice to mariners issued on Thursday and the subsequent plan by the Coast Guard to remove the hazard came a little too late. At least six boat owners reported serious damage to their vessels after impacting the submerged hazard. One of the boat owners whose vessel suffered damage contracted a local dive and salvage company to locate and identify the hazard. Jeremiah Kogon said this week his company, Marine Diver Services, a local salvage diving operation, was hired by the owners of one of the damaged boats to conduct a survey of the impact area just south of Buoy G39 that marks the main channel north of the bridge over to Assateague.
“We did a side scan survey and discovered approximately 3,000 feet of unmarked pipe in shallow water,” he said. “Next, we performed an underwater inspection of the pipe, swimming over 1,000 feet of it, and noted several of the pipe-connecting steel flanges matching the damage scars on three of the damaged boats.”
Kogon said he had only surveyed the area where the boat owner who hired him suffered the damage, but there are areas in the same general vicinity where other boats have been damaged.
“Another area near G16 was also reported by another vessel owner,” he said. “However, that area has not been surveyed yet.”
The owner and operator of one of the damaged boats, who preferred to remain anonymous, detailed her encounter with submerged dredge pipe in shallow water in the channel.
“We were out for a cruise with my cousin and his girlfriend and a one-year-old on board,” she said. “We were down toward Assateague when we ran across something in the main channel. The impact threw my cousin and the baby across the boat. Water was coming in quickly and it would have sunk completely but I was able to beach it at Castaways.”
The boat owner said her situation was just one of many over the last few days involving vessels striking the submerged pipe.
“Three other vessels are at Sunset Marina with identical gashes in them,” she said. “Based on the types of boats, I estimate the damage is probably around $60,000. I know I’m in about $9,000 and we’re not even finished with all the estimates yet. I only have liability insurance on the boat so I don’t know what I’m going to do next.”
For that boat owner, the issue became sentimental as well as financial after the initial incident.
“It was my father’s boat and it had fallen into disrepair when he was ill, but we completely restored it,” she said. “I know it’s just a boat, but it’s a devastating, emotional thing for me.”
The boat owner advised others avoid the same fate. She said she spoke to another boat owner who suffered serious damage on a new boat on just its second time out on the water.
“Boaters should definitely avoid going down in that area until that pipe is removed,” she said. “It’s right next to the buoy in the main channel where we are supposed to be.”