Crime & Public Safety

Barge serving Daufuskie shut down by Coast Guard. Lawyer says vessel unfairly targeted

Coast Guard Sector Charleston marine inspectors ceased operation of a barge and tug on Hilton Head Island.
Coast Guard Sector Charleston marine inspectors ceased operation of a barge and tug on Hilton Head Island.

An attorney representing a barge that provides crucial services to Daufuskie Island said the U.S. Coast Guard unfairly targeted the barge company by suspending services this week.

Tom Taylor, representing J&W Corporation of Greenwood, told the Island Packet on Friday that the barge company was “astounded” by the U.S. Coast Guard’s press release announcing the suspension of services.

J&W has operated the barge from Broad Creek Landing on Hilton Head to Freeport Marina on Daufuskie about two to three times a week for more than 10 years, providing a variety of services to the island including delivering building material, food, service vans, and garbage trucks.

Marine inspectors with Coast Guard Sector Charleston discovered unsafe conditions Nov. 8 on a barge and tug that docks on Daufuskie Island, according to the news release Thursday.

Pointing to letters written to the Coast Guard, Taylor said there are no “serious issues and unsafe conditions” on the barge despite the claims made in the press release.

“We had not (and have not as of this date) received any official notice of the alleged defects or conditions that supposedly exist, and have not therefore been told what J&W has to do to fix them,” Taylor said.

The Coast Guard press release said the barge was operating as a car ferry “without the required certificate of inspection.”

But Taylor said the barge was not operating as a ferry during the time of inspection so didn’t require the “inspection under the federal regulation. “

Taylor said J&W is “doing everything” it can to get barge service back to Daufuskie as soon as possible, but is waiting to hear from the Coast Guard again. Options include getting a temporary replacement barge or repairing the current one, Taylor said.

He said he last spoke with the Coast Guard on Nov. 14 when officials there turned down his plan to fix the barge and “wouldn’t perform a second inspection.”

He said one other barge from the Savannah area provides service to Daufuskie Island, but wouldn’t be able to make it there for two weeks.

“Daufuskie desperately needs this barge service.” Taylor said. “This is the embodiment of big government gone bad: a federal agency answerable to no one that refuses to fairly deal with small businesses.”

The Coast Guard’s press release told a different story.

“As Captain of the Port, one of my highest priorities is the safety of the people on the water, the waterway and marine environment,” said Capt. John Reed, the sector commander. “I am grateful for the experienced marine inspectors for identifying the serious issues and unsafe conditions of this barge. Their work helped prevent a potentially catastrophic marine casualty and resulting impact to the safety of life, property and the environment.”

Operation of the barge was stopped under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act, the news release said. The investigation found a lack of watertight integrity, poor condition of the vessel’s structure, excessive water in voids, firefighting deficiencies and electrical hazards.

The Daufuskie Rum Company posted on Facebook Thursday that the 2018 Daufuskie Island Rum and Strum Music Festival, scheduled for Nov. 24, was canceled.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to bring the stage, sound equipment and bathroom trailer to the island,” the post said. “As a result, we have to cancel the Rum and Strum.”

All tickets will be refunded in full, the company said on Facebook.

The rum company said on Facebook it can’t reschedule the event “due to not knowing when barge service will be restored.” It also said finding another date for all five bands would have been difficult.

The Coast Guard order affects only barge service. Ferry service to the island continues uninterrupted.

“The J&W Corporation also serves Daufuskie with daily ferry service, and no one should confuse this action by the Coast Guard with J&W’s passenger ferry service,” Taylor said. “It continues to run daily in a safe and convenient manner as it has for more than 20 years. “