Dredging Dangers: Boaters say pipes in the harbor often hard to see at night

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A November 13 boating accident involving a semi-submerged dredge pipe left two people seriously injured.

That got the boating community talking on social media, and sharing their stories of close calls and accidents.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which is running the project told News 2 that they haven’t had any accidents reported to them, until this most recent one. Boaters said many don’t get reported because they fear even a little bit of alcohol in their system could result in serious charges.

Sea Tow Charleston owner, Captain Anthony Noury, said they’ve seen an increase in the number of calls, especially in recent months, to help boaters who hit dredge equipment. Those calls come primarily after sunset.

“They [dredge companies] are very good at what they do and they try to make it as safe as possible, but it’s just inherently difficult at night,” said Noury.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, at one point over the summer, up to 10 dredgers worked the harbor to support the project. That number is currently down to six, but the hazards remain.

“Our harbor is like an airport. We have channels that the ships go in and out of — those are our runways — and all the areas surrounding the channel like coming out of Shem Creek, those are the taxiways,” said Noury. “The taxiways are the ones that sometimes get blocked up with dredge pipe.”

Noury said they have to work somewhere to get the job done, and the area known as the “middle ground” is the most dangerous and the scene of the accident on November 13.

“This is where these dredge companies need to put their pipe, so they’ve marked it and you can see it during the day, but it’s difficult to see at night unless you know what you’re looking for,” Noury said.

To illustrate how hard it is to see, Noury took us back out at night. Even with the light of a nearly full moon, obstacles are hard to spot.

The pipes that are illuminated with lights, as required, seemed to blend in with the lights of the Peninsula. They are difficult to pick out unless you are aware you should be looking for them.

The Army Corps of Engineers said in a statement, “Contractors are required to follow our safety regulation (EM 385-1-1) and Coast Guard requirements for marking and lighting… Conditions are inspected by USACE and the Coast Guard during inspections, which are often unannounced.”

Noury said from what he has seen, the dredge companies appear to be meeting the standards. However, he cautions boaters to stick to the channels and slow down.

“Slow is the way to go.”

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