Water taxi captain races to the rescue, stops runaway barge

A water taxi captain came to the rescue when a loose barge drifted toward Seattle. (KING, PATRICK WADDELL, KARA JOHNSON, RYAN POHANIC, JULIE HARMSEN, CNN)
Published: Nov. 5, 2023 at 11:44 PM AKST
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SEATTLE (KING) - A water taxi captain came to the rescue when a 300-foot loose barge began drifting toward Seattle’s waterfront.

Capt. Dan Krehbiel with King County Metro Water Taxi says he will never forget what happened Thursday afternoon. He and his two-deckhand crew were traveling to Pier 50 from West Seattle around 1 p.m. when they noticed a 300-foot container barge drifting toward the city’s waterfront.

“It was one of those ‘this isn’t good’ situations, and we were the only ones around to help to try to make it better,” Krehbiel said.

The captain alerted the passengers about a slight delay as he and his crew sprang into action.

“‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to be delayed a little bit. It looks like we have to divert a barge from hitting the waterfront.’ And I believe from downstairs I heard somebody say, ‘Cool,’” Krehbiel said.

The barge was carrying six stories of empty containers, which loomed over the small water taxi. Still, Krehbiel approached to try and push the barge away from the waterfront.

“You can definitely see the David and Goliath aspect of it: small aluminum passenger vessel going up against a giant steel barge and all those containers,” Krehbiel said. “I had access to… the flat side of the barge. I knew I could get up against it and start pushing on it without any major damage to the boat or putting anybody at serious risk.”

Krehbiel’s quick-thinking allowed the water taxi to push the barge north toward empty Pier 66. Tugboats soon arrived, pinning the wayward ship to the terminal until it could be retrieved.

The water taxi was not damaged, and service was only delayed by 15 minutes. According to the barge owners, no injuries were reported, and only minor damage occurred.

“I’m glad that we were able to be there at the right time and the right place. If it had happened at any different time, we either wouldn’t have been there soon enough, or we would’ve gone passed it before it came loose. And it would’ve been an entirely different outcome,” Krehbiel said.

Krehbiel returned to work Sunday. He has been with King County since 2009 and has more than 30 years of experience as a high-speed vessel captain.

“Once that was over, it was kind of ‘Well, I’m going to have to tell my wife about this,’ and she’s making a bigger deal out of it than I am,” he said.

Alaska Marine Lines was responsible for the Pacific Trader barge and said in a statement that it came loose from its mooring on Harbor Island. High winds then pushed the barge across Elliott Bay.

An investigation is still underway to figure out how it all happened.