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The little tugboat that couldn't

The Joedy has been ordered off the waters of Newport Bay after leaking oil, taking on water and banging into bridges. It can resume its work with a dredging project when the problems are fixed.

February 14, 2009|Susannah Rosenblatt

The Joedy had seen better days. The stout little tugboat leaked oil and took on water. It was missing a fire extinguisher. And its captain didn't have the proper license.

But the real problem, the Coast Guard said, was that Joedy kept smashing into things in Newport Bay. Like the bridge that spans the harbor entrance and the bay-front fish market that sells fresh lobster. One whack after another. Authorities tallied four crashes in five weeks.

All the thumps and other safety issues have forced the Coast Guard to take the tugboat off the waters for the time being.

A harbor workhorse, Joedy was employed to assist a 172-foot-by-44-foot barge as it hauled muck from a dredging project at Newport Dunes Marina out to sea.

The journey, repeated with each load of silt scooped from the bay, called for Joedy's captain to chug under the Coast Highway bridge that carries traffic across Newport Beach and then navigate congested Newport Harbor -- not always smooth sailing.

By the authorities' count, the 57-foot tug may have smacked the bridge as many as three times as it made the voyage, allegedly puttering away from each bump without alerting the Coast Guard.

In another instance, the tug reportedly clipped Pearson's Port, a seafood market that does business from the bay's shoreline.

"It was just a matter of time," said Terese Pearson, who owns the market with her husband and had been spooked by a few close calls with the tug.

The dredging operation, which is being handled by Atlas Engineering, has "been out of control since the first second they started pushing," Pearson said of the busy tugboat.

Pearson said the fish market crash the morning of Jan. 31 bent mooring poles, busted the front dock and broke floor, ceiling and roof beams. The market was empty at the time of the crash, she said.

Atlas Engineering manager Jim Strunk said a broken steering mechanism caused the barge to sideswipe the fish stand. In his view, he said, the damage to Pearson's "was not that severe."

Pearson said the crash was violent enough to shove the entire market five feet closer to the bridge.

As to the bridge run-ins, Strunk said Joedy's fenders just touched the bridge, but that the boat never crashed into the span. He said the tug hasn't had safety problems in the past.

Atlas Engineering has been working to fix the boat, and most of Joedy's problems have been squared away, Strunk said -- and the captain replaced.

And once the operator is properly licensed and safety issues are shipshape, Coast Guard Lt. Stephanie Young said, Joedy will be free and clear to return to tugging.

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susannah.rosenblatt@ latimes.com

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