Work is expected to begin Saturday, weather permitting, to salvage the massive cargo vessel Delta Mariner after it struck the Eggner's Ferry Bridge in Aurora Jan. 26, causing a 322-ft. span to collapse. The vessel has been anchored between the two halves of the bridge since the time of the accident.
The U. S. Coast Guard announced Friday it has approved a salvage plan submitted by Foss Maritime Company, the ship’s owner.
Scott Merritt, senior vice president of operations for Foss Maritime and incident commander for the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge, said safety will be the company’s main concern in the days ahead. Staging work began Friday.
“The first part of the salvage operation is to make sure we have our site safety plan implemented. Crews will be ... staging equipment, checking gear, making sure that they’re prepared. We’ll also be making sure all the safety zones are marked on the ship,” he said.
The Delta Mariner was relatively undamaged in the crash, stated Merritt, and the company hopes to keep it that way. Crews must first remove what Merritt called “subsurface debris” that has entangled the vessel underwater before the mass of steel and asphalt stuck on its prow can be taken off.
“The ship will then be moved upriver to a part of the river that’s already been surveyed for that purpose. We’ll moor the ship there and then we’ll use the cranes and the salvage team to ... cut up the pieces of the bridge into smaller pieces, and put them on a boat,” said Merritt.
The vessel’s engines remain intact, and it will be able to travel upriver with tug boats standing by to help if needed, added Merritt.
So far, no pollution has been released into the environment as a result of the incident. Foss Maritime has spill gear ready in case there is a release from any of the boats involved in operations. However, Merritt said he did not anticipate that happening.
T & T Bisso, of Houston, Texas, is the main company in charge of carrying out salvage operations. The company has also contracted local and regional businesses to assist.
The U. S. Coast Guard will continue to monitor the site and oversee the salvage operations.
“We’re going to ensure that the sight safety plan is adhered to by Foss Maritime and the salvers, as well as enforcing and maintaining the safety zone,” said Coast Guard Lt. Ron Easley.
The Coast Guard has set up a safety zone extending approximately one mile on either side of the bridge on the Tennessee River to protect the public. The river was opened to commercial traffic on Jan. 28, with speed restrictions.
Motorists who traveled U.S. 68/KY 80 over the bridge, prior to the accident, are now being detoured by way of Interstate 24. A southern route is also available.
Land Between the Lakes officials plan to open the area on the Trigg County side of the bridge to the public for viewing Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors will be directed to park a quarter mile away, and then walk to an overlook point near the Fenton Campground area.
Jan Bush, LBL spokesperson, said due to safety reasons, no one will be allowed on the bridge or on the shoreline. LBL employees will be on site to direct foot traffic.
The viewing is not expected to interfere with salvage operations, said Easley.
LBL has received numerous calls about the event, stated Bush, but there are no estimates on how many people are expected to take advantage of the viewing.
This will be a one-time opportunity, said Bush. LBL will continue to block access to the Fenton area until the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet decides on a plan to address the bridge, she said.