Five years ago, on a bright summer day in Philadelphia, a remarkable maritime tragedy unfolded. The K-Sea tug Caribbean Sea pushed a 250′ sludge barge over an amphibious duck boat full of sightseers in the Delaware River.
In what the NTSB chief called “yet another example of the deadliness of distraction,” it was revealed that all the personnel save one were either on the phone or texting. The only one who was not was the captain of the duck boat who thought he had an engine room fire and was investigating. He had shut down his vessel in the middle of the channel and the tug never saw the boat. Two young people died and the mate on watch served jail time as a result of mistakes made that day.
Hays Tug and Launch’s High Roller. Kathy Bergren Smith photo.Today, K-Sea is gone, sold to Kirby Corp., and the sludge barge contract belongs to a local, family-owned tug company, Hays Tug & Launch Service, Wallingford, Pa. I spoke with the company’s office manager and matriarch, Dorothy Hays, after noticing the company’s tug High Roller in drydock in Baltimore. High Roller was built in 1969 for Texaco Maritime at Jakobson Shipyard in Oyster Bay, N.Y. The 95′ model bow tug is powered by twin Caterpillar D399 16-cylinder diesels running through Lufkin reduction gears generating 2,200 hp at 1,200 rpm. Today, she is painted in the Hays colors — purple, gold and white.
Hays said the boat was in for an ABS inspection and repairs to areas of the hull damaged by ice. “Last winter was very harsh here on the Delaware,” she said, adding that the Hays fleet works 365 days a year on the twice daily service that the company provides to the city of Philadelphia. Two city-owned sludge barges rotate between the sewage treatment plant in the northern part of the city and the Renewable Bio-Fuels Facility on the Schuykill where it is processed into fertilizer. The program is a source of pride for the city which boasts that 100% of its waste water is recycled.
And the Hays family takes pride in being part of this project. The company has been operating on the Delaware since 1953. Hays’ husband, Harry, 85, was running the 115’x32′ Purple Hays towing the “Honey Wagon” while we chatted, but he has largely turned over day-to-day operations to his grandsons, Brody and T.J. Creedon.
On the river around Philadelphia, Hays tugs are part of the city’s daily rhythm, keeping the renewable energy flowing and keeping a close eye on the busy waterway.