A 100 foot barge built in 1957 sunk in the Ft. Pierce Inlet drowning a deckhand. The barge was being towed by a 54-foot Gulfstream from Key Biscayne to Georgia. The towing operation was performed by Reed Adams, Charles Griffin, Rodney Grambo and Dominick Tortorice. The decision to attempt the inlet was made when the barge began to take on water offshore. The fast outgoing tide through the inlet proved too much and the half century old barge causing it to break up and sank. Unfortunately, Tortorice did not make it off the barge in time. Reed Adam told media that the barge’s superstructure collapsed on Tortorice moments before the vessel when down. Tortorice’s body was later found offshore. Authorities suspect the outgoing tide carried his body away from the accident scene.
Ft. Pierce Inlet was closed after the event as the Coast Guard feared other boats may strike the sunken barge causing additional accidents. The inlet has been since reopened to recreational boats with drafts less than six feet upon clearance from an official managing vessel traffic in the area.
The barge has been reported to be in two pieces and has created a debris filed in and around the inlet. Given the swift current in Ft. Pierce Inlet, the depth where the barge sank and its weaken condition, Coast Guard indicated it will be difficult to remove the wreck. The salvage operation is being performed by Resolve Marine Group based out of Ft. Lauderdale. No time table has been set for when the barge will be removed and the inlet completely reopened.
A tug and barge owner owes the deckhands working for it the legal duty to provide a vessel that is seaworthy and reasonably fit for its intended purpose. Should a deckhand become injured or die as a result of an unseaworthy barge, maritime law allows the seaman or his estate to recover certain money damages. The amount of damages depend on the circumstances.