Barge Runs Down Boat... - 06/20/2007
Sunday Afternoon Boaters Were Anchored in a Narrow Channel and Awake


The Coast Guard is investigating a boating accident on Long Island Sound that injured three people, including a woman in critical condition, on Sunday June 10, 2007. A Bronx boater said he whistled and waved an orange lifejacket in a futile attempt to prevent an oncoming 324-foot tanker-barge from hitting his 24-foot vessel in the waters off Sands Point, Long Island.

Raphael Rivera, 55, said he was out fishing with his girlfriend and brother on Sunday afternoon on Long Island Sound when he noticed "a big monster" of a barge about 300 yards away. "I thought he'd go another way," Rivera said yesterday.

Instead, the barge kept coming. Rivera and his girlfriend, Ociele Medina, 47, also of the Bronx, jumped from the boat. When Rivera surfaced, he saw Medina floating face down wearing her lifejacket, about 50 feet away. Medina remained in critical condition yesterday at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, said Paul Barry, a spokesman for the hospital. Both brothers suffered minor injuries, police said. "Twenty-four hours she's been in a coma," Raphael Rivera said. "She's very bad ... my brother is better."

U.S. Coast Guard officials would say only that they had conflicting accounts of the accident, though Nassau police have said the barge hit the boat.

The crash happened about half a mile north of Sands Point, near the Execution Rocks Lighthouse, a popular fishing spot. All westbound traffic from Long Island Sound, and all eastbound traffic from the Manhattan’s East River must pass through this narrow channel. With traffic converging on this channel from all directions, on weekends this is the Sound’s equivalent of Grand Central Station.

The Coast Guard said it received a report at 2:20 p.m. of the overturned pleasure craft and that the tugboat crew reported the collision at 3:17 p.m.

New Rochelle and Mamaroneck, New York police boats (which were about 5 miles away) responded to the scene and helped pull the victims from the water about a 1/2 mile north of Sands Point.

Yuli Conely, 32, daughter of Medina, said the group had been anchored at the time of accident. Rivera said the three had been fishing for about half an hour when he saw the barge approach.

Rivera's brother, Efrain Rivera, 60, who was visiting from Rhode Island, was still onboard when the barge hit, and used a seat cushion as a flotation device after their boat began to sink, his brother said. The three were in the water for about half an hour before being rescued, Rivera said.

SOME TIPS ON BOATING SAFELY AROUND BARGE TRAFFIC

  1. Designate a lookout for commercial vessels. Towboats and tugboats operate constantly in some areas.
  2. Ships, towboats, and tugboats move quickly: Barges under town can travel one mile in seven minutes, taking ¾ to 1 ½ miles to stop.
  3. Large vessels must maintain speed to steer. The channel is the only place deep enough for them to operate.
  4. A pilot's "blind spot" can extend for hundreds of feet in front of deep-draft ships, tugboats and towboats pushing barges.
  5. You can contact ships, towboats and tugboats on VHF radio channels 13 and 16 if you are unsure of their intentions.

A LI Sound waterman commented in an Internet blog about the incident -- “Not many people are aware of what it's like to pilot a large, heavy vessel (and I'm talking ships and large barges). There's a lot going on and professionals are trained to handle it very well. I was in the vicinity of the accident today and it had to have been one of the most crowded days I have ever seen in this area, both rec and commercial vessels. The channel is fairly narrow and these are loaded oil barges passing through. Imagine if one went aground because of having to steer away from a rec boater.

“Believe me... No commercial skipper wants to get into anything with a rec boater. As a professional, the tug skipper (even if no one is hurt) has a lot to lose if any incident occurs. They face a loss of their job and their license. Basically, their career on the water is over. Please think about that next time you are operating in the close vicinity of commercial vessels. Recently, a pilot on the St. Lawrence seaway was civilly charged for negligence after the container ship he was piloting hit a sailboat whose skipper had fallen asleep and whose course was very erratic. The pilot did all that he could do, but since he was the one with the license, he took the hit.”


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