Barge Struck Grain Facility After Captain Turned Too Late
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about a February 15, 2019, accident involving the towboat Bettye M. Jenkins, which was pushing two loaded barges upbound on the Lower Mississippi River, 1.4 miles south of Vidalia, Louisiana. While maneuvering across the river about two miles downriver of the Natchez Bridge, the lead barge, T9353, struck the Bunge grain facility pier and pilings.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the contact was the captain’s decision to attempt to pass ahead of an upbound tow, Clark Todd, while crossing a river in strong current during high-water conditions. Because the river’s current was unusually high at the time of the accident, both the Bettye M. Jenkins and the Clark Todd aimed for the west span of the Natchez Bridge, where the current was typically slower.
The initial plan agreed upon by both vessels was for the Bettye M. Jenkins to pass ahead of the Clark Todd. However, the Bettye M. Jenkins took longer than expected to cross the river since the high current caused the tow to be set further downstream. The Bettye M. Jenkins attempted to turn upriver after the Clark Todd passed ahead of it, but because they had to wait for the Clark Todd to clear ahead of them, they turned later than originally planned.
According to the captain, the Bettye M Jenkins had difficulty making the turn upriver as it was against the high current and because the tow was in the Clark Todd’s wheelwash, reducing propeller thrust.
There were no injuries, but the pier sustained over $3 million in damages.
The report is available here.