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One dies, one rescued from boat; Rough seas damage wind farm research vessel

One crewman died Monday after gale force winds and giant waves damaged a specialized research ship launched in March to study Delaware’s offshore wind power resources.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Cangemi said one of two crew members rescued by helicopter from the the RV Russell W. Peterson did not have any vital signs when pulled from the ship, reportedly after one of its tripod supporting legs had broken while the ship was propped out of the water.

“We took both people to the hospital in Maryland, where the hospital declared one of the gentlemen deceased,” Cangemi said.

They were taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury.

The ship, dispatched by a New Jersey company working for wind power developer Bluewater Wind LLC, was left adrift and ran aground off Bethany Beach. It ran into trouble on a day when the Coast Guard reported five rescues and a series of distress calls as winds in excess of 50 mph battered the coast.

Cangemi said the Coast Guard’s Philadelphia office would investigate. He added that he could not say Monday if the Peterson was attempting to move to shore at the time of the accident, or if its unusual design and shallow hull were suited for heavy seas.

The Peterson is a type of boat that can raise itself out of the water on supporting legs, or “spuds.”

“It was reported that the spuds were down and one had broken,” Cangemi said. “Whether or not they were actively engaged [in moving] I have no idea.”

The Coast Guard will investigate whether the Peterson should have operated at sea under the conditions that developed Monday morning.

“They’ll take into account the type of vessel, what types of waves and sea state it’s rated for, and also take into account the pilot of that boat, the previous record and experience in the area, all those things are taken into account,” Cangemi said.

Officials with New Jersey-based Aqua Survey Inc., the boat’s operator, and Bluewater declined immediate comment on the incident, as did Collin Clement, who skippered the boat to Delaware in March but was not aboard Monday.

Ken Hayes, Aqua Survey’s president, released a brief statement Monday saying that the Peterson had two captains aboard at the time of the accident.

“I can’t say anything about it,” Clement said during a brief telephone interview.

Jim Lanard, a spokesman for Bluewater Wind, said late Monday the crewman who died was from another state. He declined to say where the surviving captain was from.

“While we’re committed to building the Delaware offshore wind park, now is not the time to be addressing any other issues than sharing the family’s grief and mourning,” Lanard said.

The Peterson, a former Gulf Coast oil industry service boat, was working 14 miles off Rehoboth Beach on Monday when a fast-growing coastal storm whipped up 19-foot and higher waves – triple their earlier height – in a few hours not far from the accident scene.

Those waves grew to a height of nearly 21 feet after the accident, heights never recorded in May since a federal data buoy began recording conditions in 1986. Only a few dozen larger waves have been recorded at the buoy, 28 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J., and then only in January or February.

The Peterson, a 25-year-old research vessel that had seen service in the Gulf of Mexico, was renamed March 29 and sent to sea to support Bluewater Wind LLC’s efforts to build a 150-turbine offshore wind farm in Atlantic waters east of Delaware.

Features of the boat include three 70-foot legs that can be lowered to the ocean floor, creating a tripod that can lift the boat out of the water for stability during research measurements. Those legs appeared damaged when the boat came to rest Monday at Bethany Beach.

The boat sent out a distress call at 8:46 a.m. while trying to negotiate swells of 12 to 14 feet, in winds that were were blowing at 30 to 40 knots. Coast Guard officials did not say if the boat’s tripod legs were deployed at the time.

“Aqua Survey is not releasing names at this point,” Hayes, Aqua Survey’s president, said. “Our hearts and prayers are with the family and friends of the lost mariner.”

By Jeff Montgomery

The News Journal


13 May 2008