Danger was averted when several unstaffed boats were sent adrift on the ice-packed Hudson River this morning. It was a tense few hours, but no one was injured and authorities have secured all vessels involved.
In the early morning hours Friday, several vessels including a tug boat, barges, a floating restaurant, and a river cruise ship broke free from their moorings in Troy and started traveling south down the Hudson River toward Albany.
One video captured by officials from the City of Troy shows the empty barges eerily drifting in the ice-packed river.
The Coast Guard was notified and tugs were dispatched to capture the loose boats. Helicopters assisted overhead.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael White described the incident to WAMC.
“Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector New York received the initial report of three adrift barges and vessels from Rensselear Emergency Dispatch at approximately 2 a.m. New York State Marine notified the Coast Guard that an additional four vessels were noticed adift in the ice flows shortly before sunrise,” said White.
By the morning rush hour, traffic was snarled on both sides of the Hudson River, as each of the five bridges connecting Albany and Rensselaer Counties had to be closed at some point as the boats drifted underneath.
At an 11:30 a.m. press conference, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Paul Karas stood near one of the vessels, a floating restaurant with damage to its roof. The “Rusty Anchor,” as it’s known, passed under a bridge between Troy and Watervliet.
“The vessel here nicked the Congress Street bridge, nicked it. And we had an observer watching it go through. We did not have a tugboat with us at the time, but we think the bridges are fine and safe,” said Karas.
The tallest of the vessels, a river cruise ship named the Captain JP III, did not clear all the spans between Troy and Albany. It got stuck under the Livingston Avenue railroad bridge near the Corning Preserve.
A regular part of Troy’s riverfront view when it’s moored between party cruises, the top of the boat crunched as it slowly collided with the bridge.
Amtrak said the bridge was not damaged and that trains restricted to 10 miles per hour were still crossing the bridge.
An employee at the Captain JP office in downtown Troy said the vessel was struck by another boat, likely knocking it loose from its moorings. Around 3 p.m., the ship was being towed back up river.
While the exact cause as to how the episode started remains under investigation, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said floating ice was likely a factor.
“It appears to us as this early stage to be caused by a large and powerful floe of ice that had broken up as opposed to one barge hitting the next and causing a chain reaction, but we’ll know more about that soon,” said Seggos.
The chase down the Hudson was unlike anything Seggos has seen before.
“I have never seen anything like this where you have this many barges loose at the same time. I’m sure it’s happened before but it seemed like an extraordinary event and I have to tip my hat to all the folks who deployed very early this morning to get on top of this very dangerous situation,” said Seggos.
DEC said in total, eight vessels were involved. No one was injured.