80 Years of Maritime Excellence

The marine fleet at Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Our Marine Operations and Maintenance team celebrat­es 80 years of service this year and although the ships and personnel have changed over the years, the commitment to maritime tradition remains the same.

The Marine Operations and Maintenance team celebrating their 80th Anniversary on the M/V Red Hook.

New York City’s first three sludge vessels, built in 1938, were named af­ter newly constructed Wastewater Treatment plants: Wards Island, Tallman Island and Coney Island. These treatment plants and sludge vessels had the monumental task of helping to restore the ecological health of local waterways. At the time, New York Harbor had become so polluted that ships would need their hulls cleaned after a single transit! For the next 50+ years, crews disposed of sludge at a site 12 miles offshore deep in the waters of the ocean. The only exception was during a period in 1942, when vessels were prohibited from going to the dump site due to fears of roaming U-boats menacing the East Coast.

A look back at our wastewater treatment history.
M/V Red Hook in dry dock.

Eighty years later, many aspects of the marine operations and maintenance section have changed—most notably that the Ocean Ban Act of 1992 pro­hibited the dumping of sludge at sea and a fleet of skimmer vessels now maintain combined sewer overflow sites scattered across the city’s shoreline.

Left: Skimmer boat collecting debris from the Bronx River; Right: A skimmer boat crew aboard their vessel
The Red Hook Sludge Vessel docked at Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant
Left: One of our captains steering our harbor survey vessel, the Osprey, through Whale Creek for the Harbor Survey Program; Right: One of our captains and engineers pose outside of the Osprey their vessel after a long day of harbor water sampling.

Our crews currently operate a fleet of sludge vessels that transport nearly 1.2 BILLION gallons of sludge each year! Eight of New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants have dewatering facilities and six do not. The sludge vessels transport liquid sludge from the six plants not served by onsite dewatering facilities to those equipped with the infrastructure to complete the process. Sludge is the residual organic material that is removed from wastewater, and dewatering the sludge is the final step in the treatment process.

The marine section has 94 members today, which marks the highest number of employees in its history. And, with staff hailing from 11 different countries, it is the most diverse group in generations. Operations are 24/7, 365 days a year, and stretch out to all five boroughs including the bays, rivers and creeks that make up greater New York Harbor. These crews work in a unique and specialized trade and often endure risky conditions due to the elements that can turn from tranquil to extremely turbulent in a matter of minutes. Sustaining high level operations in the past and into the future starts and ends with a skilled, spirited and committed group of personnel. Many thanks to our marine section for helping our harbor to be the cleanest it has been in more than 100 years!