Recovery Effort for Tug Crewmember Suspended

File image of construction courtesy Tappan Zee Constructors

By MarEx 2016-03-16 21:33:24

The Coast Guard has suspended recovery efforts for the remains of the third crewmember of the tugboat Specialist, citing risky conditions for diving and the difficulty of removing the body.

The crewmember, Harry Hernandez, 56, went missing following the tug's sinking on Saturday. Divers have located Hernandez' remains, the New York Daily News reported. But the body is "near the front of the tugboat, where there is a tremendous amount of damage from the impact,” according Westchester County police spokesman Kieran O’Leary, making it "impossible" to remove Hernandez’ remains from the sunken vessel. 

The bodies of the other two crewmembers, Paul Amon, 62, and Timothy Conklin, 29, have already been recovered. The tug's owners, Specialist LLC of Montauk, Long Island, are reportedly making plans to raise the vessel. She had an estimated 5,000 gallons of diesel aboard; authorities said that a fuel leak created a slick some 300 feet (91 meters) wide and five miles (eight km) long. A spill response contractor and the state's Department of Environmental Conservation are working to contain the spill. 

The tug's impact with the stationary construction barge and subsequent sinking is the second marine casualty involving floating construction equipment for the Tappan Zee Bridge project. In July, 2013, a wedding party struck a stationary barge at the Tappan Zee Bridge, killing the bride-to-be and the best man. The operator of the boat was allegedly intoxicated at the time of the incident and was charged with two counts of second degree vehicular manslaughter; he pled guilty.

Media raised questions about adequate illumination of the stationary construction barges following the 2013 incident; during a site visit this week, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the barge struck by the tugboat Saturday was appropriately lit for safety. "We have taken many, many precautions to make sure everything is very well illuminated," Cuomo told The Journal News. "I don't think there's any question about the lighting."

The Specialist was one of three tugs maneuvering a barge under the bridge at the time of impact. Neither of the other two vessels made contact with an object, nor were any of the construction workers on the stationary barge injured. In a statement, the stationary barge's operators, Tappan Zee Constructors (TZC), said that the firm "is aware that a tugboat unrelated to the project struck one of our crane barges in the main channel as it was moving south early this morning, causing the tug to fully submerge," adding that TZC is cooperating fully with investigators. 

A lawyer for Specialist LLC described the incident as “a horrific and shocking tragedy." He said that the tug was seaworthy and the crew were "all experienced, competent mariners."