Crews prepare to lift sunken tug


Giving up on search and rescue efforts for four missing crewmen in Monday's tugboat sinking on the Elk River, Coast Guard officers and salvage workers prepared yesterday to raise the vessel from the shipping channel, a task they say will take several days.

Strong currents, wind and 43-degree water limited divers in their attempts to prepare the tug to be lifted, said Rit Walling, salvage master for Ellsworth Salvage Co. of New Jersey, which has been hired to hoist the 60-foot vessel.

The tug is in 35 feet of water in the channel, forcing the closing of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

"We can't dive for more than an hour or two in this water," Walling said. "We need a slack tide. I'd say it'll be sometime this weekend before we're completely set up."

Yesterday, two teams of divers explored the stricken tug, feeling their way in almost total darkness at the bottom of the heavily traveled channel. Two-man teams were unable to attach hoist straps to the Swift, which is lying on its starboard side.

The captain of the tug, William "Bo" Bryant of Chesapeake, Va., and three deckhands, Bryant's nephew, Justin Bryant of Shallotte, N.C., Ronald Bonniville of Gloucester, Va., and Clarence McConnell, had not been found yesterday, Coast Guard officers said.

Sheila Moore, who is William Bryant's sister and Justin Bryant's aunt, said the captain had been working on the water for 25 years and loved his job.

"He loves the water. It's all he ever talked about was being out there," said Moore, who was at Town Point, the peninsula nearest the site of the wreck, yesterday.

Justin Bryant had been working on the water for a year or two, Moore said.

Coast Guard officials arranged for a chaplain to contact William Bryant's wife, Maryanne, who remained in Virginia, and took Moore onto the river above the tug.

Two members of the Swift's crew, Roy Young, 48, of Middleburg, Fla., and Troy Link, 38, of Hampton, Va. were treated at Union Hospital in Elkton on Monday and released. Another, Jeff Slaton, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore but was not listed on patient logs there yesterday.

Two others, Ben Dickey and Dennis Wallace, escaped without injury, said Lt. Russ Bowman, the Coast Guard's chief investigator in the case.

Coast Guard officials had given up the underwater search for the four missing crewmen, but a Coast Guard helicopter and airplanes hired by the tug's owner, Norfolk Dredging Co. of Chesapeake, Va., continued to sweep the area.

The Swift sank Monday morning when a cargo ship, the A.V. Kastner, and a line of barges and tugboats collided. The details of how the crash occurred and what caused the Swift and a barge to sink were being investigated yesterday, Coast Guard officials said.

The Association of Maryland Pilots provided no new details about the accident yesterday. Association member Timothy M. Cober, who was piloting the A.V. Kastner on Monday, has been conferring with the group's attorneys and assisting Coast Guard officials in their investigation.

The Coast Guard has ordered all 12 surviving crew members on the tug and dredge rig to undergo drug testing, a routine procedure in an accident in which fatalities occur, Bowman said.

Steve M. Newton, personnel and safety director for Norfolk Dredging, said the company was sending heavy cranes that salvage workers will need to raise the ship.

"It's a terrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to these families," he said. "We're doing everything we can."

Coast Guard investigators, divers and salvage workers spent the day developing a salvage plan that will take into account winds, the tide and currents in the half-mile-wide section of the Elk River.

"This has to be a very meticulous plan," Bowman said. "We are very concerned about maintaining what's there so we can continue investigating how this happened."

Planners have to consider the environmental impact of raising the tug, which was leaking diesel fuel, and get the plan approved by various agencies, he said. Once the plan is approved, raising the boat will take a day.

Workers from the Maryland Department of the Environment continued to monitor the area for pollutants yesterday. Art Mayfield, an emergency response worker for the department, said a rainbow sheen of diesel fuel was visible on the surface yesterday, but much less than had been there the day before.

Workers from the department placed a boom lined with absorbent material at the scene yesterday as a precaution.

The tugboat accident has closed a vital shortcut to the port of Baltimore, forcing some commercial ships to make a more costly trip up the Chesapeake Bay to reach the port.

Coast Guard officials knew of only one ship that was scheduled to use the canal yesterday, but the number of ships affected could be higher because many ships make alternative plans without notifying transportation officials. Typically, the canal is used by two to three cargo ships a day.

Sun staff writers Lane Harvey Brown and Johnathon E. Briggs contributed to this article.

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