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Maine Ave. Fish Barge Floods, Nearly Sinks

Vessel Had Similar Problem a Year Ago

By Nicole Fuller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2004; Page B03

A barge that sells seafood at the Maine Avenue Fish Market was forced to close yesterday after it flooded with water, causing the boat to lean to one side and part of its roof to collapse, D.C. fire officials said.

A crew from the D.C. Fire Department's river rescue team was called shortly after 5 a.m. to Pruitt Seafood in the 1100 block of Maine Avenue SW to pump water from the sinking 45-foot barge. After four hours, the job was turned over to a private company.

The barge that holds Pruitt Seafood in the Maine Avenue Fish Market began to sink early yesterday. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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Firefighters on board the barge had to be evacuated after the partial roof collapse, but no one was injured, fire officials said. Owner Sung Kim said he was unsure when the seafood store would reopen. The 20 workers who live on the barge were put up in a hotel temporarily.

Officials blamed the flood on a hose that was intended to fill the ice machine but instead flooded the barge's holding tank, coupled with the decrepit condition of the barge's bottom.

The barge was close to sinking, said fire department spokesman Alan Etter. "If the water had continued to come in like that, it would have certainly" gone down.

The fire department has responded to about a half-dozen calls in the past year of the barge taking on water, Etter said. In the most serious incident, last August, a 15-inch slit in one of the barge's seams caused the boat to list and damaged the roof of an adjacent barge. Yesterday, D.C. fire department divers who examined the barge's steel and wood bottom reported that it had cracks and holes in its surface.

"There's a lot of deterioration on the bottom of the boat," Etter said. The flood "is a combination of the hose being in [the holding tank] all night and the deterioration of the barge."

A boat worker left the hose running Saturday night, manager Todd Miller said.

"I've lost thousands of dollars today, but everybody got out safe and alive -- that's what's important," Miller said. "Saturday's the busiest day, so we'll be all right."

Miller said the boat's office suffered water damage but the electrical lines were unaffected. "If [the water] had been on for three or four more hours, the boat would have snapped and tipped over," Miller said.

Kim said 5,000 pounds of seafood and 150 bushels of crabs were salvaged and taken to a freezer in Alexandria.

The problem was discovered when employees who live on board the barge arose at 5 a.m. to prepare for work. They found themselves standing in water up to their knees.

"As soon as I stood up, I fell right down because of the boat swaying," said Steve Abbott, 21, who has worked aboard the barge for five years.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company