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Dredging Stops for No One

A hopper dredge on the Atlantic Coast.
Hopper Dredge GLENN EDWARDS off the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey on the Elberon to Loch Arbour Beach Erosion Control Project.

Operating year-round in the dredging industry requires well-maintained vessels crewed by experienced personnel working day in and day out. Dredge crews spend half their lives out on the water, typically working assignments of four weeks on and four weeks off. Whether it’s maintenance dredging at Wilmington Harbor with the hopper dredge GLENN EDWARDS or replenishing miles of sand along Galveston Beach with the BAYPORT, Manson and its crews are at the forefront of marine dredging operations.

According to GLENN EDWARDS Captain Ken Penwell, dredging stops for no one. “Dredging is 24/7, 365 days a year, which means our vessels are always on the job,” he explains. “It’s not uncommon for crews to put in overtime to ensure things are in place for the next day.”

Manson’s dredge crews have all worked together for quite some time. They bring years of experience to dredging projects, with some staying on one vessel their whole careers, while others bounce around as new dredges join the fleet. The crew is a unique collective, hailing from various regions of the U.S. The days are long, and the work is tough, but they always manage to get the job done.

A hopper dredge on a jobsite.
On the Galveston Harbor and Channel dredging project, Chris James, Able Seaman, on the bow of the hopper dredge BAYPORT hooking up the pipeline. Photo credit: Elizabeth Jagush, Second Mate

A few dredge veterans have even taken the initiative to teach new recruits the ropes in operating each ship. These fresh-faced seafarers learn from people who have operated these ships longer than they’ve been alive. “You have deckhands straight out of high school working with seasoned captains; it’s truly impressive seeing them all work together,” says Dredge Operations Manager Juan Valdez.

Each day spent on a dredge presents new challenges for crew members on board, and working together in close quarters is a unique experience. Unlike a large container ship where teams are often separated, crews on a dredge see each other all the time. “We’re all in the same house, eating together and working together in different regions,” Ken says. “The weather can take a toll on people and their attitude, but having good morale keeps things going and makes the jobs easier.”

It takes a special set of skills and attitude to work on the water; this can be especially true when dredges set sail for emergency response work. “The emergency work is usually in response to different weather events – in some cases, for example, hurricanes,” Juan explains. This work is demanding and often entails longer days for those on the dredges.

In 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) selected Manson to conduct emergency hopper dredging at the Matagorda Ship Channel job in Texas. Dredging shoaled material in this area occurred on a regular basis, but after the active storm season that year, there was more sediment buildup than usual, requiring rapid removal for the safety of inbound and outbound vessels. The USACE chose Manson based on the capabilities of our dredges and in-depth experience of the project team and crews.

The hopper dredge BAYPORT set sail from Freeport, Texas, along with a truck transport of the survey boat. Upon arrival of the equipment, the project management team performed pre-dredge surveys to identify any concerns in the area. After the potential concerns were identified, the project team and crews hosted meetings to create a schedule for each phase of the work.

Prior to any actual dredging, there is a long and necessary process of planning and preparation, which involves constant communication with the end users and all parties involved. No matter how safe or hazardous a job may be, crews approach every assignment with due diligence. “It doesn’t matter if a dredge task is high priority or low priority, we’re still going to implement all the proper measures to plan and prepare,” Juan explains.

COVID-19 put a temporary halt on select jobs in our industry, but, for our crews out on the water, it was business as usual. Manson dredges performed a variety of jobs in different parts of the U.S., calling places like the Mobile district and Gulfport channels “home” for a short time. Aside from a few extra safety precautions, this lifestyle was nothing new.

Emergency response work is something that our dredge crews pride themselves on – due in part to the Manson mindset and values they bring onto every jobsite: to find a better way, and to put people first.

When the bulk carrier GLORY TRADER ran aground in June 2017 in the Mississippi River after leaving New Orleans, it caused a week-long shutdown, creating a traffic jam of 20 to 30 ships waiting to enter.

The stranded vessel posed a significant threat, as it was stuck along the location of an interchanging current flowing at two to three knots. As the current slowed and sediment moved along the river, shoals piled up on both sides of the ship. Over a four-day period, a collective of tugboats attempted to pull the vessel from its current position. When that failed, Manson was called upon to help with the removal of the carrier. Manson’s team proposed a new solution to the salvage master. “We suggested dredging on either side of the bow to help release the carrier,” Ken explains. “It was tricky because of the current, but our BAYPORT crew knew how to get it done.”

It took over a day of careful teamwork, but the crew was able to free the vessel from the river. Allowing traffic to resume and sending the GLORY TRADER off to its next destination – another job on the books for our talented dredge crews.

We owe our success on jobs like the Matagorda Ship Channel and the GLORY TRADER Removal to our crew members, who keep these dredge vessels 100% functional for Manson. Working on a dredge means placing yourself in challenging situations and working as a team to see a task through. Dredging isn’t for the faint of heart, and the resilience of a crew is often tested. It takes immense trust in each other’s skills and abilities to complete any job.

Juan believes it takes a special person to appreciate the experience of working on one of these vessels. “I have a passion for working with talented people over the water; I still get butterflies to this day whenever I set foot on one of these hopper dredges,” he explains.

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