On Thursday (Jan 21), the U.S. Coast Guard reported two separate barge incidents on the Mississippi River: the breakaway of 22 barges from the United Bulk Terminal at mile marker 54, near West Point a la Hache, which damaged three deep draft vessels in subsequent collisions; and, upriver, an oil spill resulting from the allision of the towing vessel Amy Francis with the Natchez-Vidalia / U.S. 84 Bridge at mile marker 363.
In the United Bulk Terminal incident, authorities closed the river for several miles, and as of latest reports there were 39 vessels waiting in line for reopening of navigation.
The USCG reported that the bulk carrier Q Jake, the container vessel Serena P and the geared general cargo ship Ocean Tomo were damaged when barges from the breakaway struck them. The Q Jake spilled bulk soybeans into the river, but her remaining cargo has reportedly been secured. The vessels are safely anchored.
Image: marcel coster
All 22 barges in the breakaway were loaded with coal and petroleum coke. They have all have been accounted for and secured, except one, which is pushed up against the riverbank. The Coast Guard is inspecting the position and status of the last barge to determine if is a hazard to navigation.
In the Natchez-Vidalia incident, the USCG reported that the Amy Francis had a tow of six petroleum barges at the time of allision, four of which were loaded with slurry oil. Two were damaged and one was reportedly leaking its cargo, with the amount discharged as yet unknown. The USCG reported an oily sheen in its vicinity, and it is reportedly loaded with as much as one million gallons of oil. The Captain of the Port closed the river to navigation well to the north, shuttering mileposts 363 to 438 – above the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge.
The towboat Wally Roller allided with the Vicksburg bridge on Wednesday morning, with six barges breaking away. The allision was the fourth at the bridge this year. Breakaways and bridge pier strikes have increased in number on the Lower Mississippi in recent weeks as high, swift waters have complicated navigation.
On January 15, six barges from an oil facility fleeting area in Gretna, Louisiana broke away when they were struck by the ATB Lucia, homeported in Philadelphia and owned by Penn Maritime, a division of Kirby.
The towboat Robert D. Byrd allided with the Vicksburg bridge early January 14, the USCG said, closing it again for another inspection less than a day after its reopening. The Mississippi's waters were above flood stage and rising in Vicksburg as of Wednesday. The contact was reportedly less severe than other recent strikes, and no barges broke free in the allision.
On January 13, the American River Transportation towing vessel Inez Andrea struck Pier 3 on the Vicksburg bridge, sending two of her 25 barges loose. One sank and the other was corraled.
On January 12, the AEP River Operations towboat Ron W. Callegan and her tow of several dozen barges also struck the Vicksburg bridge. Nine barges containing coal broke away; four reportedly sank.
Lastly, the SCF Liquids towboat Cynthia G. Esper and her tow of chemical barges allided with the Highway 49 bridge over the Mississippi in Helena, Arkansas on January 11. The bridge was closed for inspection but no damage was found; it was reopened early on Tuesday.
Four barges broke away in the Helena incident; two containining several million gallons of denatured alcohol were damaged. A USCG spokesman said that salvors successfully removed the product from the barges – but that over a four day period, about 300,000 gallons leaked into the water.
The causes of all of the above incidents remain under investigation.