Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Scrapping an old barge with hope of making a profit.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Old barges and old ships can find homes only for so long, when they become more liability than asset. Then, demolition becomes the final answer.

I've read articles about the Bangladeshi knackers, worker who cut up super tankers, one piece at a time while wearing sandals, no hard hats or other basic safety equipment, and few mechanized pieces of equipment, taking the problem of old vessels off the hands of industrialized nations.   There is a business in it, but only if you can discount labor and materials used in demolition, and if you can make enough on the scrap or salvaged fixtures, pumps, etc.  

Nevertheless, ship breakers perform a public service for the globe.  Closer to home, we've read about old domestic ships (car ferries, ore boats and barges), sometimes too long forgotten to trace ownership.  These vessels accumulate dockage fees, pumping and watchmen expenses, and they tend to clog waterfronts once their useful lives are over.  Occasionally, an irresponsible owner of barges will sink them, rather than forgo the expense of maintenance or demolition.

One old construction barge, once used by Mike Kahr of Death's Door Marine Construction, has been moored for some time near Kap's Marina due to hull leaks.  Its useful life ended when Mike built a new construction barge that was placed into service in 2007.  The old barge's steel does have scrap value, but in addition to steel there is foam to remove from the voids.  The cutting of rusty plate, although quite straight forward because the barge is of simple design, can be slow going.   

View looking east from Coast Guard pier toward
Detroit Harbor channel, showing general area
to be dredged this spring by USCG.

The barge needed to be scrapped at this point because of a planned dredging project to increase the width and depth of access to the marina.  The Washington Island Coast Guard Search and Rescue station is slated to receive a new aluminum 45-footer in spring with a draft that exceeds the previous patrol craft, a rigid-inflatable with outboards for power.   This new vessel is expected to have improved seakeeping  potential in rough seas.   Dredging and pier renovations to accommodate the new craft are expected to begin soon with project completion scheduled before the new craft enters port here some time in May.  Where the old barge was situated, it had protruded into the proposed dredged thoroughfare, a roughly 200 x 600 ft. channel.  

The Ferry Line has taken on the breakers project, and we'll see how efficiently it can be reduced to scrap and demolition material, and how costs balance with scrap values.  But if it works out?   Maybe island knackers will become a new occupation descriptor, adding to the economic base.  

Gains in experience are guaranteed with this project, even if profitability might be yet in question.   
  - Dick Purinton

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