OCEAN CITY — At least two more boats have fallen victim to allegedly unmarked dredge pipes in local navigation channels, including an unnamed commercial vessel and a large sportfishing vessel seriously damaged in the Inlet channel last week.
In two separate incidents, a commercial trawler and the sportfishing charter boat “No Quarter” struck a section of dredge pipe partially submerged across the main channel in the Inlet, causing serious damage to both vessels. The two incidents last week bring the total of vessels striking pipes in navigation channels in and around the resort area to at least 10, including a half a dozen or so when the dredge company, Goodloe Marine out of Florida, had set up their operation much further south near Assateague last month.
The federal Army Corps of Engineers contracted Goodloe Marine to dredge the navigation channels in and around the resort to maintain the channels at the appropriate depth. As a side benefit, the dredged material has been pumped onto existing historic islands in and around the coastal bays including the now somewhat famous “Flag Island” enjoyed by so many boaters throughout the summer. In addition, some of the dredged material was earmarked for the beaches on Assateague and Ocean City, which was ultimately the cause of the last week’s round of boat strikes near the Inlet.
The project has been going on for about a year and there had been no reported problems until about a month ago. In September, at least six vessels reported striking the unmarked, submerged dredge pipe in the area of Assateague, including one incident just north of the Verrazano Bridge when a small recreational vessel struck the pipe, ripping a hole in its hull and forcing the operator to beach the boat at Castaway’s campground.
By last week, Goodloe Marine had moved its operation north to complete dredging in and around the harbor and Inlet. The dredge pipe was in the middle of the Inlet channel and not marked appropriately with buoys and lights, according to a source, causing at least two vessels to strike the submerged pipeline.
Kyle Peet, captain of the “No Quarter,” said he struck the pipe early in the morning last Wednesday. According to Peet, the submerged pipe severely damaged the vessel’s haul and fouled the propeller on one of its two engines, to the tune of an estimated $100,000.
“We hit the pipe as we were coming through the Inlet,” he said. “They neglected to mark it and they neglected to take care of it. We were one of just five boats in the last week to run into it. They’re refusing to take any responsibility for it, or any of the other incidents from what I’ve heard from the others who have hit it. The ‘No Quarter’ took over $100,000 in damage. There are black marks all down the bottom of the boat consistent with hitting the black pipe and the prop is destroyed.”
With the other incidents earlier in September and the latest reported near the Inlet last week, it appears the contractor has been remiss in marking the submerged pipelines in or near navigation channels. U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers have strict regulations on how to carefully mark submerged hazards. One industry source who recently completed a similar project said this week he was required to light up his dredge pipes and equipment as bright as the Ocean City skyline to clearly mark the potential hazard to boaters. Peet said this week Goodloe has allegedly fallen short of meeting those standards.
“It is supposed to be marked every 10 feet if it’s not sitting on the bottom,” he said. “We’re taught that in captain’s school. It has to be marked where it goes into the water and where it comes out.”
The timeline of the “No Quarter” incident is important. Peet said his boat struck the submerged dredge pipe in the Inlet early last Wednesday. According to a statement from the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday, Goodloe was instructed to move its equipment out of the Inlet last Friday because of the pending storm and the company was not able to safely do so until Saturday.
“Recently, the contractor was working in the northern part of the Sinepuxent Bay and preparing to pump material through a pipeline to the beach just north of the Ocean City Inlet,” the Army Corps statement reads. “Last week, we directed the contractor to break down the active dredging pipe and move equipment to a safe location due to the forecast at that time for Hurricane Joaquin, which placed the storm’s path much closer to Ocean City.”
By Friday, the contractor lost control of a section of the pipeline in the Inlet and could not safely remove it until Saturday, which is understandable considering the heavy surf and strong winds. However, the “No Quarter” collision occurred on Wednesday, at least three days earlier when conditions were much calmer.
“On Friday, Oct. 2, storm weather conditions resulted in a section of pipeline temporarily drifting into a channel,” the Army Corps statement reads. “The contractor removed the pipeline as soon as conditions were safe to do so on Saturday, Oct. 3. The Corps has not received any reports of damage to property during that timeframe. This dredging project is now complete, and over the next few weeks, the contractor will be removing equipment from the entire project area.”
While the Corps said in its statement no reports of damage to property were received during the prescribed timeline between Friday and Saturday during the storm, it did not clearly say the Corps had not received any damage reports outside of the Friday-Saturday timeline. According to multiple sources, the contractor has not accepted responsibility for any of the collisions, from the handful near Assateague last month to the two recent incidents in the Inlet. Goodloe Marine could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, in its statement, the Army Corps laid out its mission statement regarding the appropriate marking of dredging equipment.
“Safety of those on the water is of the utmost concern of the Corps and we take any claims of damage to property seriously,” the statement reads. “The Corps requires contractors to mark dredge pipelines per our safety and health requirement manual, as well as per U.S. Coast Guard regulations. The Corps conducts periodic inspections to verify compliance and address any discrepancies for our operations. In an effort to further advise the public of potential navigation hazards, the contractor must also provide information on their operations to the USCG via Notices to Mariners.”
For the aforementioned incident in September regarding a smaller recreational vessel striking a submerged dredge pipe in the navigation channel near Assateague, a Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) official report on the incident obtained this week determined the collision was the result of a submerged dredge pipe.
“The investigation revealed that the vessel had struck a submerged dredge pipe that was unmarked,” the official NRP report reads. “I inspected the vessel after it was removed from the water and found that the hull had cracked fiberglass on the port side of the hull below the waterline, which was consistent with striking a submerged object.”
The report includes a narrative of the investigation.
“The vessel was northbound in Sinepuxent Bay north of the Verrazano Bridge when it struck a submerged dredge pipe in the channel near the red number-16 marker,” the NRP report reads. The collision caused a long hole in the hull and the vessel began taking on water. The vessel continued north until it ran aground off of Castaway’s campground. Three passengers were taken off of the vessel by NRP officers and transported to land. The vessel owner and the vessel were taken to the commercial harbor in Ocean City and the vessel was removed from the water.”
In that case, vessel owner Kelly Taylor said she is still trying to recoup the damages, which totaled thousands of dollars. It is uncertain in each of the collision cases if the vessel owners’ insurance policies will cover the damage and according to sources familiar with the situation, there have been veiled threats of a lawsuit against the contractor. In Peet’s case, the boat captain this week was sorting out if he was covered for the estimated $100,000 in damages.
“The best thing I can do right now is leave it up to my insurance company,” he said. “My insurance company sent an adjuster out on Monday and he said he had seen this before and it’s consistent with hitting a dredge pipe. He reviewed my course and my charts and determined I was right where I was supposed to be in the middle of the channel.”