On Thursday and Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard reported four separate barge incidents on the Mississippi River: 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; 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 the fourth and fifth allisions at the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge so far this year.
In the Natchez-Vidalia bridge incident Thursday, the USCG reported that the Amy Francis had a tow of six petroleum barges at the time of the allision, four of which were loaded with slurry oil. Two were damaged and one was reportedly leaking its cargo.
“Crews estimate that approximately 76,000 gallons of clarified oil mixture was unaccounted for after the incident,” the Coast Guard said in a statement Friday. The barge reportedly contains as much as 1,000,000 gallons of oil, but initial damage assessments indicate that only two compartments were breached, limiting the potential spill to a maximum of 200,000 gallons.
Damaged barge from the Natchez-Vidalia allision (courtesy USCG Eighth District)
The Captain of the Port closed the river to navigation well to the north, shuttering mileposts 363 to 438 – above the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge, which has suffered five strikes so far this year.
In the fifth and latest allision at the bridge, towing vessel Thomas Kay struck it Thursday, damaging one ethanol barge. The tow’s remaining barges were unharmed.
The towboat Wally Roller allided with the bridge on Wednesday morning, with six barges breaking away.
This week’s allisions and breakaways add to a long and growing list of barge incidents on the Lower Mississippi.
On January 15, six barges from an oil facility fleeting area in Gretna, Louisiana broke away when they were struck by the ATB Lucia.
The towboat Robert D. Byrd allided with the Vicksburg bridge early January 14. 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.
Four barges broke away in the Helena incident; two containing 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. As of January 22, the water level at Vicksburg is at 48 feet, five feet above flood stage.
The following videos illustrate recent conditions on the Mississippi River. The footage and the vessel shown are not related to the incidents described above.
Towboat transit of the Vicksburg bridge at 36 feet, posted January 4.
Video of the flooding from aboard a towboat, posted January 6.