USACE Locates Sunken Towboat Near Port of New Orleans

The Natalie Jean (file image courtesy Creole Chief / social media)

By The Maritime Executive 03-22-2018 01:50:00

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported Wednesday that it has located the wreck of the 65-foot pushboat Natalie Jean, the towboat that sank on the Mississippi near Chalmette last week. The Corps is not yet releasing the exact location of the vessel.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assisted the Corps with the search by carrying out a sonar scan of the river bottom. Salvage operations are in planning but will not begin until after the river's water level subsides. At river mile 103, not far from the site of the sinking, the gage reading was nearly 17 feet Thursday morning, just below the the official flood stage level. Historical average tables suggest that the current at this stage is typically five knots at the surface. 

Two crewmembers, Malon Dawsey and Karl Prince, remain missing. The Coast Guard called off the SAR effort last week after searching 100 square nautical miles over the course of two days.  

The New Orleans Fire Department and on-scene witnesses reported that the capsize was the result of a collision. The Coast Guard says that the cause of the incident is under investigation. 

In an interview with the Times-Picayune, maritime surveyor Ron Campana II gave an eyewitness account of the sinking. The Jean's barge tow got caught in the strong river currents and pulled the towboat over a ship's anchor chain, Campana said, causing the Jean to pitch forward and roll over. Campana was on a vessel near the scene and helped rescue the Natalie Jean's captain after the capsize. 

The Natalie Jean had about 600 gallons of diesel fuel on board, but no signs of a spill have been reported. 

Second capsize in one week

On Friday night, the 60-foot towboat Vincent J. Eymard capsized and sank near Donaldsville, Louisiana, upstream of New Orleans. The Eymard's crew escaped unharmed and were taken aboard another towboat, the Ellysa. The Eymard was carrying 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board at the time of the incident. No pollution has been reported. 

A Coast Guard spokesman told local media that he did not want to speculate as to whether the incident was related to high water conditions on the river.