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Warning signs for barge included ‘rotted’ deck, years before it sank in Providence river

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Long before it sank in the Providence River, U.S. Coast Guard inspectors were concerned about the rusted, rotted and holey deck of the barge that’s been submerged on the waterfront for almost two years.

When Coast Guard inspectors went to examine the 114-foot crane barge, owner Mark Ginalski confronted them as they tried to board.

“[Mr. Ginalski] was irate and uncooperative at first as he did want us there bothering him,” the inspection report said.

After negotiating their way onboard, inspectors noted, “the majority of the deck is rotted away and holed.”

Ginalski told the inspectors “he is getting steel delivered… to patch up the deck.”

There is no indication whether or not the deck was ever patched, but the report did indicate the holes were allowing water to collect inside the barge’s various holds.

The was “less than 6 inches [of water] in each hold” but the barge did not “appear to be taking on water” the inspection said.

A December 2014 Captain of the Port (COTP) order stated an inspection revealed “the potential for [MG Marine’s unnamed barge] to sink.”

That COTP told Ginalski he’d be “held liable for any and all costs associated with its removal should it sink.”

The inspectors recommended moving the barge should be approved “for fair weather conditions only.”

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, said there was a potential for a $50,000 fine or imprisonment. (The initial FOIA request was filed February 2018 but the first documents were not released until March. The inspection was released late last month.)

The barge sank in October 2017, with Ginalski blaming emergency crews who he claimed, “watched it sink for three hours.”

“I had working pumps on the barge,” Ginalski said. “I could’ve pumped it out.”

The urgency for salvaging the wreckage has ebbed and flowed with the tide.

When Target 12 asked about the barge about two months after it sank, public information officers for both Providence and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) said there was nothing their offices could do about forcing the removal of the barge.

But in May 2018, a short time after our first report, the Providence harbormaster threatened legal action against Ginalski.

The city fined Ginalski $500 last August and threatened to remove the vessel and force him to pay the bill.

Also last summer, the DEM told Ginalski he would be fined up to $125,000 a day if he did not remove the wreckage by the end of August.

DEM Chief Public Affairs Officer Mike Healey said in May, the legal process continues and the department is pressing the case to hold the owner accountable for removing the barge.

Ginalski has a history of maritime violations dating back to 2005 when, according to a federal court complaint, he was “operating a commercial tug-boat with a malfunctioning fuel line and without a proper license.”

The complaint also alleged in 2006 Ginalski “relocated a damaged and partially submerged vessel, causing an oil/gasoline leak.”

Ginalski was ordered to pay more than $67,000 in fines and civil penalties in connection with the incidents, according to the complaint.

The barge has been listing still long enough for two families of osprey to build a nest in the crane.

Osprey are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but according to Healey, the birds would not stop the salvage as long as the intent was to move the barge, and not focused on the nest.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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