Gold mining barge loses sea legs
Waves of surprising height and ferocity sheared the four legs off a Phoenix Marine jack-up gold dredge on Nov. 17.
The crippled barge sat grounded Friday east of the causeway, while Phoenix Marine crews cleared it of petroleum products and equipment to prepare for taking sections apart and attempting to crane them out of the shallow waters. The next job on the slate would be retrieving the excavator that fell off into Norton Sound, as well as the legs.
National Weather Service had forecast five-foot seas midweek; wrong—strong seven to eight foot waves battered the barge during the night and broke off the welded casings holding the spuds—that’s “legs” in gold dredge talk.
The jack-up barge, one of three such platforms Phoenix Marine uses to mine for gold from the bottom of offshore mining leases, was at City Dock near the end of the causeway when the weather went bad. Crews towed it to its present location near shore for salvage after it went afloat.
“The forecast predicted five-foot seas, so they didn’t have the barge jacked up high enough,” Harbormaster Lucas Stotts explained Friday. “If it had been jacked up just a little higher, it would have escaped the waves.”
Crews pretty much know where the excavator and legs are, according to Stotts. Divers are on the way to town to attach lines to raise the equipment. Any toxic materials on the barge have been removed by a crane operating from the causeway. Phoenix Marine obtained a permit to take the crane onto the causeway, according to Stotts.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation have received reports, according to port staff, and no damage to Port of Nome property has occurred.
Meanwhile, other Phoenix Marine employees worked Thursday and Friday to pull the company’s other two jack-up barges out of the harbor over the ramp by Port Road for winter storage.
Freeze up is late this year. Port staff, discussing close-up status at the Nov. 17 Nome Port Commission meeting estimated ice would not totally cover the waters for about another month.