The small boat that sank into Brooklyn’s toxic Gowanus Canal Friday was a city contractor’s vessel, and one local mariner spotted it taking on water for a week before it met its demise in the noxious waters.
The vessel, a so-called safety skiff contracted by the Department of Transportation, was stationed in the polluted waterway just south of the 3rd Street Bridge when it became submerged on March 18.
“As soon as DOT crews noticed the boat was taking on water, the DOT immediately contacted the boat owner and the vessel was removed,” said agency spokesperson Vin Barone in a statement. “We have advised the contractor to take appropriate measures to protect the public in the use of safety skiffs.”
The Department oversees the five bridges spanning the canal, some of which are more than a century old, including the 3rd Street Bridge.
The Environmental Protection Agency has banned recreational boating on the canal north of the 9th Street Bridge since late 2020, to make room for the federally-managed Superfund cleanup, dredging a century’s-worth of industrial and wastewater pollution from the canal.
EPA spokesperson Stephen McBay said the incident had no effect on their cleanup work.
The boat appears to have been moored at the sheet pile bulkhead at the end of the Whole Foods parking lot since December, according to a post on Twitter.
A little boat has taken up residence in the Gowanus next to the Whole Foods they built on 3rd and 3rd. It just lives there now. pic.twitter.com/KhkMcZXi2T
— The Angry Ruko 🏳️⚧️ (@The_Angry_Otaku) December 29, 2021
Firefighters responded to the scene Friday night, and the boat was still about two-thirds submerged the next day, but it was gone by Sunday.
One local canal enthusiast and experienced boater said he spotted the little watercraft take on water and go below its waterline about a week beforehand.
“It looked a little stern down on its waterline,” Gowanus resident Gary Francis told amNewYork Metro.
Francis is a member of the local canoe club the Gowanus Dredgers and has paddled down the canal and all over the Five Borough’s waterways for years.
He has also twice set sail from Maine to the Caribbean, and the Brooklynite was surprised why no one warned the owners over the past week, despite the heavy barge traffic from the ongoing federal cleanup.
“Boats need to be checked regularly. I’m very surprised that that would happen to a boat right next to the cleanup passed by many boats every day,” Francis said.
“It’s pretty crazy and embarrassing,” he added. “It’s just an easy thing to spot. If you see that waterline not showing, that’s a red flag.”
Francis watched men trying to figure out how to move the boat Saturday evening, which is when this reporter first spotted the drowned vessel, but he wasn’t there to see what they ended up doing to get out of the noxious channel.
He speculated that if the boat was left unattended, its battery-powered pump might have died, slowly leading it to become waterlogged in the filth.
“If you get over that height [of water], all of a sudden you start sinking rapidly and it can go down overnight,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, amNewYork Metro observed a boat back at the same spot, and a worker aboard said it was the same one and that they were able to make it canal-worthy again.