The Story and picture are courtesy of Harry Turner, President, USCGC Duane Association

 THE GARBAGE BARGE COLLISION

By Gerry Sweet 

I was an SK1 on the Duane from 74-76 and was on board the night of the collision

We had had a pretty rough trip on the as it was. We had gone to Gitmo for Refresher Training and the day before we pulled in we lost the reduction gears in the mains after doing some man overboard drills. Needless to say our stay in Gitmo was real short and we only did some dockside training. There had been a lot of strange things happening during the trip down and every one was really on edge. Might have had something to do with the old saying about setting out on a trip on a Friday under a full moon. Anyhow---

 
After we left Gitmo, we went to the yards in Baltimore where we spent a month getting the engines repaired. After we left Baltimore we stopped in Earle, New Jersey to reload the ammunition that we had dropped off on the way to Gitmo. That night after we left Earle, a bunch of us were playing cards in the first class quarters when one of the BT's made the statement that if we could get around Ambrose Light (New York) without any more problems we would be home okay. Anyhow we all hit the rack and the next thing I knew I was lying on the deck (had a top rack). A few more minutes and the collision alarm sounded and I took off to my post at Repair Station One which was one deck below main, up in the bow. Remember we all didn't know what was going on, confusion ran amok, by the way this was about 2a.m. Sunday morning May the 11th, 1975.
 
After the damage control party made sure that we were not taking on any water, we secured and headed top side. Sure enough there was a garbage scow with a nice V shaped dent in her sides from where we hit her. Neat experience, one I will never forget, I don't think anyone slept the entire rest of the trip back to Portland, Maine.
 
Anyhow - the rest of the story. We had a fresh ensign (newly graduated, of course) who was in control of the bridge that morning and around Ambose Light it seems there was a tug towing a garbage scow out in front of us. Back in those days, the New York tugs towed the barges out into the open waters then dumped the garbage. Well the con recognized the tug on radar and visual noted her lights, unfortunately there were no lights lit on the barge and the tug's light did not indicate that she had a tow. In accordance with procedure (can't remember exactly what it was) the ensign directed the helm to steer around the tug in the proper direction. Mind you know that we were doing full speed ahead (about 22 knots) because we were in a hurry to get home. Well, we broad sided that barge amidship at full speed, probably the only thing that saved us from gashing the hull, taking on water and having a major tragedy. Since the barge had already been emptied it was riding high in the water which was why we left a huge V in her side. It was also why I was thrown from the top rack down onto the deck. 

 
That's basically the story. I have pictures and the newspaper article from the Portland Paper that was released the day after we tied up. We ended up going to the yards in Boston to have the bow fixed (another month in the yards). The Old Man at the time was Richard Wise and the young ensign was named Fitzpatrick. Mr. Fitzpatrick was cited on his fitness report and never made any rank higher than LCDR. The Old Man retired in August of 1975 and became a schoolteacher in Maine.
 
Can look back on it now and laugh at the comedic parts of it, but at the time it was a very serious situation that could have been a whole lot worse.

Maybe I can even remember the one about the fragmentary shell getting caught in the ammo hoist and just sitting there vibrating cause it was stuck, but I don't like to think about that one.

 
CWO4 Gerry Sweet,USCG, (Retired) can be reached at rustyscupper@kscable.com
 

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