- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

ELK NECK, Md. A Chesapeake Bay pilots association yesterday described radio communications between a freighter and one of two tugboats it collided with Monday.
Four crew members from one of the tugs, which sank after the collision, remained missing yesterday and were presumed dead. The heavily traveled Chesapeake and Delaware Canal remained closed for a second day.
The collision on the Elk River occurred on the north side of the shipping channel. The freighter, the A.V. Kastner, and pilot Timothy M. Cober had agreed to keep in radio discussions with the operator of the tug Buchanan 14, the Association of Maryland Pilots said in a statement.
The Buchanan suffered minor damage. The Swift, the second tug towing dredging equipment along with the Buchanan, also was struck, and it sank quickly.
"At approximately 0645 hours the Tug Buchanan 14 and her tow collided with the M/V A.V. Kastner on the north side of the channel. After the collision, the M/V A.V. Kastner anchored, notified authorities, launched her lifeboat, and proceeded to initiate a search and rescue operation," the statement said.
"The Association and Captain Cober are cooperating with the United States Coast Guard investigation and will cooperate with the investigation of the State Board of Pilots. … We believe further comment would not be appropriate at this time."
The Kastner was heading west to Baltimore after the leaving the canal. The other vessels were heading east toward the canal.
The Buchanan 14 was towing a supply barge, No. 811, which also sank. The tug was followed by the dredge Jekyll Island, the Swift, a derrick barge and 500 feet of floating dredge pipeline. Two smaller boats followed the pipeline, Coast Guard Lt. Russell Bowman said.
Lt. Bowman would not comment on the statement by the pilot's association. "It will be a meticulous process. … We're very much in the preliminary stages of the investigation," he said.
The Coast Guard said it won't discuss details of the investigation but said the probe will cover factors such as equipment operation and use; communications, procedures, and seamanship.
Crews worked yesterday on a salvage plan to raise the Swift, lying in 36 feet of water, and the sunken barge.
The salvage operation must be planned carefully to take into account factors such as tide, current, visibility and water temperature, Lt. Bowman said.
Once a plan is submitted by the contractor to the Coast Guard, it will be reviewed for safety and environmental effect. Lt. Bowman said the salvage operation could take several days.
"All of this is subject to weather and current conditions," he said.
Salvage Master Rit Walling said the Swift is in the shipping channel and the barge is not, so salvagers will concentrate on the tug first. The tug is hoped to be cleared by the weekend, he said.
The Coast Guard yesterday identified the missing crew members as William Bryant, the captain of the Swift; his nephew, Justin Bryant, a deck hand; and deck hands Ronald Bonniville and Clarence McConnell.
Those rescued were identified as Troy Link, Roy Young, Jeff Slaton, Ben Dickey and Dennis Wallace. Mr. Dickey and Mr. Wallace made it to shore and did not require medical attention; the other three were treated for minor injuries and released.
The Kastner was moored yesterday in Baltimore, where it was being inspected as part of the investigation. The Coast Guard is conducting drug and alcohol tests on all of the crew members on all of the vessels, Lt. Bowman said.
The Coast Guard suspended its search Monday evening for the four crewmen. Officials said water temperatures in the low 40s made it doubtful the men were still alive.
"All reasonable chances of finding them alive have passed," said Coast Guard spokesman Patrick Montgomery.
The Swift and the Buchanan were towing dredging equipment to the Motiva refinery in Delaware City, Del. The Kastner is operated by Gypsum Transportation Ltd., a subsidiary of USG Corp.. The 520-foot ship was headed from Nova Scotia to Baltimore, where USG has a wallboard manufacturing plant.

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