GALE'S SEVERITY SURPRISED OWNER OF BEACHED DREDGE

GALE'S SEVERITY SURPRISED OWNER OF BEACHED DREDGE

The owner of a dredge that went aground on a Long Island beach in a severe gale Sunday said the vessel was not towed to a safe harbor because of expectations that the storm would be less severe than what occurred.

Weather forecasters said the strength of the storm, which passed through the New York area Saturday and Sunday, had been accurately predicted as early as Thursday.The 310-foot dredge, owned by the Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. of Oak Brook, Ill., broke its six anchor lines at about noon Sunday and drifted onto a sandy beach two miles east of Moriches Inlet, on Long Island's south shore. The vessel was carrying 100,000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil.

Two seaman aboard the Great Lakes working tug Hoosier State were thrown into the ocean after the tug capsized trying to tow the dredge out to sea. One man, William Moore, was rescued immediately by a Coast Guard helicopter. The captain, Dennis Hatcher, has not been found.

The dredge's hull was not damaged and no oil has escaped either from the dredge or the capsized tug, the Coast Guard said.

"We had taken precautions but what Mother Nature delivered was much more severe than anticipated," said Richard Adams, a Great Lakes' spokesman, adding that the company "unquestionably" would have towed the dredge to safe waters had it received an accurate forecast.

At 9 p.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service issued a storm warning for the New York area, including Long Island, calling for 55-60 m.p.h. winds, and seas of 8-15 feet. The storm was no more powerful when it arrived, said Jim Poirier, a meteorologist at the service's New York Area office in Brookhaven, Long Island.

"The fact that winds of gale force and greater, and wave heights of 10-12 feet and greater were foreseen as early as Thanksgiving was a fact," said Bob Raguso, vice president of marine sales at Weather News America Inc. in Cranford, N.J. "This storm was not a surprise"

Mr. Adams said that measurement instruments on the dredge indicated 60-70 mph winds and 12-15 foot seas.

"We wouldn't be willing to characterize the inaccuracy of the forecast in any way," he said.

The dredge was on site to repair beach erosion caused by a nor'easter about a year ago.

A second tug, the Volunteer State, which ran aground also helping to tow the dredge out to sea, had not been refloated as of midday Monday. The Coast Guard is searching for Hoosier State, which apparently is completely submerged.

Plans Monday focused on refloating the dredge with all its oil aboard, or removing oil first to lighten it.