The Delaware River in the Philadelphia-Camden area used to be heavily polluted. In recent years, however, water quality has improved dramatically and a growing number of people are using the waterway for recreational purposes.

Not everybody is happy about that.

The Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, a group representing commercial shipping companies, is voicing concern about boaters and swimmers using the river along a 27-mile stretch near Philadelphia because they say it is too crowded with cargo ships and barges.

Safety and Security issues

Maritime Exchange president Lisa Himber said having people swimming and floating around in tubes, kayaks and on paddleboards in and around the marine terminal section of the river presents safety and maritime security issues.

She noted about 4,800 cargo vessels operate in that zone “and then there are many thousands of work boats, tug boats, barges, dredge boats.”

She said if a kayaker or swimmer gets near a marine terminal, a cargo vessel or a barge “the security officers on the ship or the marine terminal, they don’t know whether the person is a threat or not so they have to act as if it’s a threat.”

She said that means “they’re calling in resources, they’re taking action to prevent harm, even though it might not be needed, and that’s a drain on resources.”

Who owns the Delaware River?

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said it’s completely ridiculous to suggest swimmers, kayakers and paddle boarders pose any kind of danger or threat to anybody.

“The Delaware River belongs to the people and to nature, it doesn’t belong to industry and it doesn’t belong to the Maritime Exchange or the port industry,” she said.

“The Maritime Exchange has no business trying to kick people off the river who want to use it recreationally and enjoy it."

Yoga on the river

Rossum said it’s wonderful that people are “kayaking, they are canoeing, they are swimming, there are people who are doing yoga on boards.”

She said the Maritime Exchange is “peddling a false narrative in or to try to frighten people away from the river” while also attempting to convince local, state and federal officials of the same thing as they consider whether to upgrade the Delaware River’s designation under the Clean Water Act.

She said the Delaware Riverkeeper Network along with Environment New Jersey the Clean Air Council and Penn Future support upgrading the designation because it will help protect the quality of the Delaware River.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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