CORNWALL, Ontario – A pair of tugboats capsized on the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall Monday.
Initially one tugboat had sunk on the river Monday at around 4 p.m., but a man who had just come from a barge currently moored in the middle of the St. Lawrence River said another smaller vessel went under at about 9 p.m.
Witnesses and police later confirmed this.
That tugboat is lying capsized immediately adjacent to the barge.
“Another tug – a local tug,” said the man, who only identified himself as an employee of American Bridge, the company tasked with demolishing the high-level Seaway International Bridge. “The current got a hold of that tugboat and just tossed it around.”
Men had to be plucked from the water, according to witnesses.
One of those men was taken to hospital with a non-life threatening injury.
All of the men from the scene on the St. Lawrence River looked exhausted, with sweat pouring off them.
When asked what caused the mishap Monday they pointed to the swiftness of the water.
“The current – definitely the current,” said another man who works for American Bridge.
The first vessel was lying capsized in the river just west of the Lamoureux Park boat launch for about two hours, but rolled over once again before becoming stuck a second time, said witnesses.
Cornwall Community Police Service officers later confirmed the crews from the tugs were safe.
“From what we know the crew has been accounted for,” said Sgt. Emidio Piunno, adding both his service and the local RCMP are the lead agencies handling the incident at this time.
Witnesses said the first tug, the Lac Manitoba, appeared to roll over once after it went under and became stuck on the bottom.
The other smaller tug is known only as the LCM 131.
“It rolled once and appeared to lodge itself again,” said witness Mallory Poirier, who added a supply boat of some kind appeared to be trying to come alongside the sunken tug and secure it. “They seem to be having a tough time with the current.”
The current in that part of the river, just downstream from the R.H. Saunders Generating Station, is extremely powerful.
Hilton Bissonnette, who was fishing in the area of the old Cornwall powerhouse, said it appeared as though the Lac Manitoba was assisting the huge barge in the river in some fashion when drama took place and the tug went under.
The barge is carrying a mammoth crane that will be used to demolish the high-level Seaway International Bridge.
“Smoke started to pour out of tugboat,” Bissonnette continued, describing a scene of chaos on the water. “Boats started to head out to it. Once the boats got there they began jumping off.”
Bissonnette estimates about five or six crew members abandoned the Lac Manitoba.
It was later confirmed there were three people who escaped tragedy.
A torrent of water is pushing on the stricken Lac Manitoba and RCMP patrol boats are in the area, warning other boats to stay away.
Cornwall police had the waterfront area near the Lamoureux boat launch secured, while EMS and fire services stood by.
The incident took place at around 4 p.m., said witnesses.
The Lac Manitoba is owned by Nadro Marine.
A company official reached Monday night said Nadro would be issuing a statement Tuesday morning concerning the incident.
The Lac Manitoba is listed as a 64-foot tugboat, according to the company’s website and comes packed with 1,000 horsepower.
For more, click here.