Risen from the depths | Drowned crane successfully hoisted from seafloor

A crane that spent more than one week at the bottom of South Whidbey Harbor is loaded onto a barge Thursday. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
A crane that spent more than one week at the bottom of South Whidbey Harbor is loaded onto a barge Thursday.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

A crane at the bottom of South Whidbey Harbor was hoisted to the surface Thursday morning after spending more than one week underwater.

No diesel fuel from the crane leaked during the operation or throughout the week, said Carl Andersen, a hazardous materials specialist with the Department of Ecology who was on site Thursday.

The crane was lifted in three parts including the crane’s main body, the counterweight and the boom. A piling was also removed.

All parts were out of the water by 10:30 a.m.

The crane fell from a barge that tipped due to a mechanical error last Wednesday, Aug. 14.

The operation was handled by barge and crane owner Neptune Marine with assistance from Orion Marine Group, a civil marine contractor.

Overall, the operation went smoothly but wasn’t without excitement. During the lifting of the crane’s counterweight, a line snapped just as the object was about to touch down on a barge. Two workers were nearby, but no one was injured.

No additional permits were needed for the operation. It was covered in permits associated with the project, said Ed Field, port operations manager.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Berlin said the lifting process went well and there was minimal environmental damage.

He said the majority of the vegetable-based oil used to lubricate the equipment was contained within the boom and removed with absorbent pads.

About 10-15 gallons of the vegetable-based oil was released from the crane since Wednesday.

Andersen said the company did a good job getting the boom out quickly and getting the crane out of the water.

“They did an awesome job with safety and with the environment,” Andersen said. “Everything turned out really well.”

Curt Gordon, port commissioner, said the company did the job quickly and efficiently.

“I can’t wait until we can stand there with an additional breakwater and 400 feet of additional moorage next year,” he said. “It should be pretty nice.”

Neptune Marine was beginning to install the second piling in the marina expansion project last Wednesday when a mechanical problem caused the barge to take on water and tip.

The steel spuds of the spudded mooring system, used to allow the barge to fluctuate with the tides, got jammed up on one side during high tide. When crews arrived Wednesday morning, the 50-ton crane was still mounted to the tipping barge. The crane split from the barge and fell into the water after attempts were made to level the vessel.

Crews were able to pump the water out of the barge and it was corrected by the end of the day. No injuries were reported.

Travis Crabb, owner of the company, purchased the crane and barge from another company five days before the accident. It is unclear what will happen to the crane remnants.

“I think my guys handled it pretty well. We prevented any injuries and hazards to the environment. I think we’re going to recover from it fine and it will make us a stronger company,” Crabb said.

A Coast Guard investigation determined alcohol and drugs were not factors in the accident, that it was the result of a mechanical failure, he said.

Crabb said the company is in the marine construction business and works on waterfront and underwater structures. The company has divers on staff as well as welders and carpenters.

“(My guys) do everything; they’re marine jack-of-all-trades in waterfront and underwater construction,” Crabb said.

The company is not in the salvage or recovery business, he said, but they have the skills and equipment to perform the work.

They are also prepared for environmental emergencies, which is why they were able to act quickly to deploy containment booms.

Crabb said the company uses a special food-grade vegetable oil lubrication for all of the equipment. If the oil escapes, it dissipates and doesn’t have the same harmful effects, he said.

“In a dynamic marine environment this happens,” Crabb said. “It will make us a stronger company and a stronger team.”


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