C&D; Canal reopens after 7-day closing


The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal reopened to commercial traffic yesterday, hours after salvage workers towed away the sunken tugboat that had blocked its eastern entrance for almost a week.

Workers still had not determined yesterday whether the body of crew member Steve Pollert is trapped inside the Bay Titan. The vessel remained upside down and mostly beneath the water's surface, as divers worked to position slings to roll it upright.

The tug was raised a few feet from the canal's bottom Thursday night and towed to an anchorage in the Delaware River. Coast Guard officials said weather conditions and tides slowed the process.

"There's more current down there than they anticipated," said Lt. Cmdr. David Ford, a spokesman for the Coast Guard office in Philadelphia.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the canal's bottom before dawn yesterday and ordered the canal opened after determining that all obstructions had been removed from the channel.

The canal was opened at 4:20 a.m. - earlier than Coast Guard officials expected - and the first commercial vessel moved through at 5:45 a.m.

"Everything's moving normally now," said Dave Titter, a marine traffic controller for the Corps of Engineers.

The C&D; Canal connects the Delaware River and northern Chesapeake Bay and saves hours of transit time between Baltimore and New York.

According to Titter, about 25 tugs and barges and two oceangoing ships use the canal on an average day.

Since vessels don't file itineraries in advance, the commercial impact of the week-long closing is unclear.

"We're not aware of any cargo that was diverted from the port [of Baltimore], but it's certainly been an inconvenience," said Sara Moriarty, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration. "We're pleased that it was opened with as much speed as it was."

The Bay Titan sank May 11 when a sugar barge it was towing gained speed and passed the tug. The barge, which was attached to the Bay Titan by a towline, then dragged the rear of the tug sideways, causing it to overturn and sink.

Five crew members were rescued, but Pollert is still missing and his body is believed to be inside the tug.

Police divers tried to enter the vessel twice but were turned back by strong currents. The capsized tug sank near the canal's entrance to the Delaware River, with its pilothouse stuck in the bottom and the forward hull slightly above the water's surface.

Salvage divers were planning to plug the vessel's 11 fuel-tank vents yesterday so its diesel fuel will not leak out when it is rolled over and raised, probably sometime today.

Marine diesel fuel evaporates quickly and is not particularly threatening to the environment. The Bay Titan carried about 43,000 gallons. Safety crews have placed nearly a mile of protective booms along sensitive rookeries and coastline in case the fuel is spilled.

Once the tug is righted and brought closer to the surface, two pumps will be used to empty it and restore its buoyancy. It then will be towed away for repairs.

Once the vessel is raised, a detective will board it to search for the body of Pollert, who is officially considered a missing person, Delaware State Police said.

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