The 6,000 ton container barge Guantanamo Bay Express, departed Jacksonville, Florida at around midnight on November 12th under tow of the US flag SPENCE on her scheduled service to the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Unfortunately, 30 knot gusts and 12 foot seas led to a parted tow wire allowing the barge to drift on to the rocks of the north Mayport Jetties.
The owners of the barge took prompt action and engaged Titan Maritime
to undertake salvage operations. Titan immediately mobilized the Smith Maritime tugs
ELSBETH (1,100 bhp) and the ELSBETH II (6,000 bhp) out of Green Cove Springs. Shortly thereafter, a Salvage Master was dispatched via chartered aircraft to conduct an onsite assessment of the casualty. In addition, a salvage team with portable equipment was mobilized over land from Titan’s salvage depot in Fort Lauderdale, Florida approximately 280 miles south of the casualty. Adverse wind and seas prevented the tugs and the salvors from approaching and boarding the barge on either side. A crane barge fitted with spuds was quickly chartered and mobilized to serve as a work platform on the lee of the breakwater allowing for the safe transfer of personnel and equipment to the casualty. The on site assessment during low water indicated that the barge had sustained significant structural damage and breached all six of her port side voids.
Based on the damage assessment, Titan’s naval architect modeled the hull and rapidly determined that the barge would only survive damage to 4 out 6 port side voids. Part of the salvage team proceeded to rig the void tanks for compressed air blow down while the others prepared the towing connections and made up floating hawsers which the shallow draft ELSBETH would messenger out to the ELSBETH II about 1.5 cables away. Once the USCG had approved Titan salvage plan, final preparations for the Refloating effort were completed and the team proceeded to apply compressed air and make up the tugs. To further reduce the ground reaction, the team rigged
a 4-inch pump to counter ballast the No. 2 void starboard. Weather forecasts, calling for gale force winds and 20 feet seas, shortened the window to 24 hours.
At approximately 1830 hours on November 12th, the Titan team successfully refloated the barge during a rising tide with all port side voids under air. The ELSBETH proceeded to tow the barge into safety and about 7 hours later was able to safely moor her at the Blount Island cargo terminal, where her cargo was quickly discharged by stevedores. The barge was then shifted to Atlantic Drydock
for emergency repairs where she was redelivered to her owners at 1845 hours on the blocks.
By: Jack Auerbach