Towboat Sinks at Baton Rouge Anchorage, Spilling Fuel
On Thursday, the towboat Michelle Ann sank at the general anchorage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana after striking the anchor chain of the bulker Iolcos Unity.
The Coast guard received notification of the casualty at about 1100 hours Thursday, and it closed the Mississippi to traffic from mile marker 224.5 to 226. The Ann's four crewmembers safely evacuated from the towboat onto her barge, and they were rescued by a nearby good samaritan vessel.
The Army Corps of Engineers is searching for the Ann's exact position on the river bottom, and the anchorage area remains closed. The Coast Guard has reopened the main channel to traffic.
A Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Baton Rouge incident management team confirmed that there is an oil sheen on the water. There may be as much as 18,500 gallons of fuel aboard the Michelle Ann, and an unknown amount has been released into the river.
Due to concerns over responder safety from dangerous river conditions, the Coast Guard and response firm OMI Environmental are monitoring the spill from shore.
The cause of the incident is under investigation. The Mississippi at mile 226 is well above flood stage, and as of Friday it was just four feet shy of the Baton Rouge gauge all-time record of 47 feet. With high water levels come high currents, and towboat operators typically reduce the quantity of barges in their tows during flood conditions. The Michelle Ann was pushing one single dry bulk barge ahead at the time of the casualty, and the barge was safely recovered.