June 9, 2023

Swift response to 1975 capsize prevented an ecological disaster


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In this edition from the February 1975 issue of American Shipper, FreightWaves shares an article that tells the story of a potential disastrous incident. A fast cleanup response opened the port where it took place in an impressive amount of time and saved the area from what could have been major damage to the ecosystem.

Dredge ‘Caribbean’ capsized in Miami harbor; port re-opened in 11 hours

At about 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening, Jan. 11, the Dredge “Caribbean” of Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company suffered an internal explosion, rolled over and sank in the main shipping channel to the Port of Miami opposite Dodge Island. The dredge had 3,600 barrels of oil aboard when she went down, threatening a major oil spill in Biscayne Bay.

Coast Guard Lt. John Neu, assistant captain of the port and Miami’s oil pollution control officer, was notified within minutes. Word was flashed to close the port to all shipping. Emergency forces were called out.

By the time Neu could reach the scene, employees of Belcher Oil Co. — which operates a terminal on Fisher Island at the mouth of the harbor — had already arrived and were deploying a 1,000-foot, 33-inch boom around the dredge.

Norwegian Caribbean Line’s cruise ship M/S Starward was preparing to sail when the accident occurred and was trapped in the harbor overnight. The ship was allowed to depart, however, when it was determined the channel was still clear for ships to pass along one side.

Port of Miami was able to clean up the spill so fast it did no lasting damage. (Photo: American Shipper)


Carmen Lunetta, assistant director for the Port of Miami, said he did not expect the sunken dredge to affect the operations of the port. “If someone had told me a dredge was going to be sunk in the port and asked where to put it, I would have said to put it just about where the Great Lakes’ dredge went down, (about 500 feet off the eastern end of Transit Shed B on the south side of the channel).”

Bids for the raising of the dredge were received on Jan. 15 and sent to New York for study by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock officials. The salvage operation is expected to take from two to four months. Lunetta said he did not think the sinking would delay the completion of the 36-foot harbor-deepening project set for this summer and that another Great Lakes dredge was already on its way to Miami to do channel work on the approach channel when the barge went down.


The initial boom deployed by the Belcher team had been stored on Dodge Island, not far from the scene of the accident, by Belcher and the Port of Miami Spillage Clean-Up Committee. Initial deployment was made difficult by wind and a second barrier was deployed for safety.

As soon as the initial spill was under control, Walter Bird, president of Commercial Divers, was brought in by Great Lakes on a 24-hour basis to plug any leaks that might develop in the dredge. Harold Daniel, president of Danmark Inc., was engaged by Great Lakes to help clean up the spill.

By 6:30 Sunday morning, the boom was secured and Daniel began pumping out oil, which he said was between four and six inches deep. The oil was pumped out at a rate of five to eight hundred gallons per minute into a fuel oil barge, which was alongside the dredge when she went down. Daniel said a vacuum-centrifugal pump was used.

By 9 a.m. Sunday, the channel, which had been closed soon after the dredge went down, was reopened, permitting the departure of the Starward, which had to delay its departure by approximately 11 hours. Also, Sunday morning, the dredge’s silt curtain, designed to prevent the movement of silt from the dredging area, was deployed to assist in the containment of oil.

Great Lakes officials reported approximately 4,200 barrels of oil had leaked and been cleaned up during the first four days of cleanup operations. After the collection of most of the oil that was spilled, the use of the larger pump for removing oil from the water became impractical, and Daniel deployed a small skimmer to collect the thinner levels of oil. After the skimmer had done all it could do, water wipers were used to collect most of the remaining oil.

For the collection of oil sheen that escaped from the boom, an absorbent boom developed by Danmark was deployed at the corners of Dodge Island. Daniel said that after the initial cleanup operation, the main problem was to be sure that any new leaks that developed were contained quickly.

Neu and Daniel complimented Floyd Syrcle and John Hoffman, in charge of oil cleanup for Belcher Oil, for their initial work in cleaning up the spill and in the work they have put in for developing a spillage control plan for the Port of Miami.

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter!

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