NOBRA Pilot & River Tugs Rescue Breakaway Ship
It was barely dusk and NOBRA pilot Captain Don Gagnon was readying for his full assignment upriver when he noticed what he thought was a barge next to the recreation ship, the Carnival cruise line ship, the Ecstasy, now temporary Post Katrina housing for firemen, police, and emergency personnel. FEMA arranged for the ship immediately after the storm to allow special personnel with access to the city amid the flooding.
Gagnon thought to himself, “No barge should be next to that vessel,” according to a recently published story in Waterways Journal by freelance writer and pilot Richard Eberhardt. Later we would learn that perhaps a ballard failed on the dock and with high winds, the ropes gave way and the ship slowly started moving into the River.
Gagnon acted quickly, getting the tug to take him over for a closer look. He hopped aboard the barge and then up onto the Ecstasy to find some 10 mates and the Captain on the bridge trying to hold her in place with just the bow thruster, and making no headway. He said they were thrilled to get some assistance.
Meanwhile, others in the river began to see what was happening and put out messages for tugs to come and help. All were tuned to the Vessel Traffic Service and later to channel 77 for commands.
According to a story by Richard Eberhardt in the Waterways Journal, witnesses said the Ecstasy missed two Navy ships by 20 feet and the dredge by 50 feet. With Captain Gagnon’s assistance, the crew was able to get one main engine and the bow and stern thrusters working. Gagnon said he deployed the port anchor about seven-tenths of a mile downstream of its dock. When the ship dragged anchor, the Journal noted, Gagnon had put out more chain, eventually dropping about 600 feet and using the tugs’ engines to help stop the downstream drift.
A Crescent Towing and Willy Bisso tug both provided assistance as well. The Ecstasy was later moved to the Julia Street wharf.