The disabled tug Legacy 30 miles offshore of Ocean City, Maryland, All seven crew members were hoisted by helicopter to safety. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

7 Rescued, Tug & Barge Adrift off OCMD

An unusual situation unfolded this weekend just off the coast of Ocean City, Md. when crews had to abandon a tugboat and its barge. And those vessels are still adrift four days later.

The tug Legacy was towing a 290-foot barge from New Jersey, destined for Guyana, when the tug’s 1,000-foot-long towing line became entangled in one of its propellers.

The crew of Legacy called U.S. Coast Guard Sector Maryland around 3:30 a.m. Saturday to report their starboard propeller was fouled by the tow line. The tug continued underway on one engine until the line snapped. That’s when things got worse. According to USCG, “the crew attempted to regain tow of the barge at which time the line became tangled in the port propeller, immobilizing the vessel.”

With both propellers fouled and the tug fully inoperable, the crew was preparing to abandon ship about 30 miles off Ocean City. A Coast Guard cutter from Cape May, New Jersey was already underway and responded to the scene. But rough weather conditions made it so the 154-food Cutter Lawrence Lawson was unable to get near the drifting barge and tug. Concern was high that the cutter itself could get its propeller fouled by the towing line, too.

This 290-foot barge was adrift after its towing line fouled both of its tug’s propellers. U.S. Coast Guard photo

So the Coast Guard launched helicopters from Atlantic City, New Jersey and Elizabeth City, North Carolina to hoist seven people from the tug. All seven were safely delivered to an Ocean City, Maryland airport with no injuries.

Now the disabled tug and barge, still adrift in the ocean, became the next challenge. Legacy‘s crew activated their emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) and the Coast Guard also added a self-locating data marker buoy so they could track the tug and barge while waiting for a commercial salvage crew to arrive.

Just after noon Sunday, some 32 hours after Legacy‘s crew called for help, the Coast Guard issued a notice to mariners advising that “an unmanned towing vessel (LEGACY) and 290 foot barge are adrift approximately 55 NM east of Paramore Island, VA.” The Coast Guard continued, “The towing vessel and barge are not connected and drifting south at approximately 2 knots. Both are unlit and pose a hazard to navigation.”

USCG asked all boaters to keep a “sharp lookout” and report any sightings to Sector Virginia on Channel 16 or call (757) 483-8567.

As of Tuesday night, the Coast Guard tells Bay Bulletin the tug and barge are still loose some 70 miles offshore. Two tugs are on the scene nearby, waiting for a weather window to safely tie up to the disabled tug and drifting barge. The Coast Guard continues to re-issue the advisory to mariners every three hours. We’ll continue to update this story.

-Meg Walburn Viviano