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Published: 10/21/2001

Stuck freighter freed as 5 tugs push and 2 pull

The Nanticoke is finally free.

Seven tugboats pushed and pulled yesterday morning, as an audience of curious watched from the sidelines.

At 9:30, the 730-foot freighter was freed from her impromptu berth lengthwise across the Maumee River.

Entrapment gave way to movement about four hours after the arrival of the seventh tug, the Atlantic Sedar from Sault Ste. Marie. The removal of additional soybeans from the ship's cargo hold had made the vessel more buoyant.

Though only a small portion of the ship sat on the silt adjacent to the Norfolk Southern rail bridge, it was enough to cause a suction that kept her in place - and enough of a cushion to prevent the ship's hull from being damaged, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

“The combination of offloading [the soybeans] and repositioning the tugs enabled us to get [the ship] pushed back into the channel,” said CWO Rick Minnich, a spokesman for the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Toledo.

“We had five tugboats pushing on the side and two pulling.”

The Nanticoke was guided to a berth at the ADM Countrymark grain elevator along the river's east bank, a short distance from where the ship had been blocking the river's channel.

“There was no damage found,” Mr. Minnich said. “The steering tested fine.”

At the beginning, four tugboats were successful in preventing the ship from crashing into the railway bridge but could not dislodge the vessel.

Then the tugboat reinforcements were summoned.

The effort to free the ship included removing some of its 28,000 tons of soybeans onto barges.

The ship got stuck after heavy rain accelerated the currents of the Maumee to more than treble the normal river speed, sweeping the Nanticoke around 90 degrees.

While the ship was maneuvered to freedom, dozens of people, many armed with cameras and accompanied by pets, gathered along Miami Street to watch.

“It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Ken Firman of Toledo.

“And we got to see the train track [on the rotating bridge] turn,” he said. The bridge pivots to allow bigger vessels to pass.

“It's amazing that a boat like that could get struck in the Maumee River,” said Angela Hanley. “I thought the river was deep. ... Something that size seems invincible.”

Gary Haydel of Rossford, who worked on the docks decades ago, said he was surprised it took so long to free the ship. But “once it started moving, they got it out of here quick,” he said.

“This has got to be expensive for the company. I don't know how much these tugs go for an hour,” said Mr. Haydel, who visited the site daily.

And there was the disruption of river traffic. One ship was stalled upriver - unable to get past the Nanticoke with her own load of grain. And four other vessels scheduled to pick up grain bypassed Toledo.

A spokesman for the Canadian Steamship Lines, the ship's owner, could not be reached for comment.

But Capt. Tim Poste, the firm's representative on the scene, has said expenses for the disruption will be picked up by his company.

While no estimate was available, Captain Poste has said it will be significant.

An investigation to determine what caused the Nanticoke to go astray is continuing.



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