The dredge New York's starboard spud is a hero.
If there is a hero in this story, it is the New York's starboard spud, which took an impact of tremendous force, saving the seven-man crew from certain disaster had the dredge capsized. The New York is 200 feet long and is equipped with one of Liebherr's largest excavators - a model 996. The starboard and stern spuds of the dredge bore the weight of the massive dredge in addition to the force of the collision. Because they were bent, they prevented the New York from sinking as water poured into the forward compartments through a large gash in the side.
The safety point is that well-built equipment is at the top of the list in the goal of an incident and injury-free work environment.
Of equal importance is the safety mindset of the crew. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock is in the forefront of the industry-wide safety effort, having been the first company to sign on to the Dredging Safety Management Program with the Corps of Engineers, and then beginning its own program with safety systems consultant JMJ, who had achieved outstanding safety success with companies in other industries known for hazardous working conditions. (See IDR, January/February 2007 "Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Commits to an Injury-Free Goal.)
On January 24, the New York crew had little time to do anything but hang on as the Orange Sun veered off course and hit them. Immediately following the collision, operator Mike Cuthbert, who was in the control cabin at the time (and everyone who has been on the New York knows how high and exposed that position is), began issuing orders - to the Lemmerhirt captain to land the scow for flotation; to the crew to close hatches and otherwise secure the dredge.
Certainly, such coolness in a terrifying situation is attributable to training and good information on procedure in an unexpected situation, as well as good judgment and courage on Cuthbert's part.
Another facet of dredging and navigation safety is the safety of the waterways themselves. Just before going to press with this issue, I learned that the terminal operators at Port Newark had commissioned two hydrographic surveys of Berth 24, as a ship had gone aground in the berth. That ship was the Orange Sun. The first survey was done by Rogers Surveying, as soon as the ship left the berth. The survey crew witnessed the ship sailing down Newark Bay and veering into the New York. The second survey was done a day later by Bill Benson of Hydrographic Surveys. Results of those surveys and investigation of the systems on the Orange Sun should help answer the questions surrounding this accident.
Our coverage of the struggle by waterways interests to procure funding for navigation dredging projects is therefore also a safety story. Project after project we describe in our report on the Omnibus FY08 spending bill (page 19) includes money to correct dangerous shoaling and channel narrowing throughout the nation's waterway system.
Looking to the 2009 budget, waterway organizations again state their cases that the Administration's Corps of Engineers budget for navigation dredging is dangerously inadequate (page 6). Politically, this issue is truly bi-partisan, as legislators from both parties in the House and Senate, including Independents, join in consensus that we must maintain our waterways, for both safety and economic reasons.
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