Video: Towboat Nearly Hits Historic Riverboat in New Orleans

Riverboat Natchez (Richard Spragg / public domain)
Riverboat Natchez (Bernard Spragg / public domain)

Published May 5, 2024 11:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last weekend, a towboat with a large barge tow came within feet of hitting a historic paddlewheeler moored on New Orleans' Mississippi waterfront. 

At about 0830 hours on April 28, the towboat Robert L. Knight approached the sharp river bend at Algiers Point with a load of 24 empty hopper barges, headed upriver. The winds were strong enough that a small craft advisory was in effect. As the towboat rounded the bend, it swept along Natchez's starboard side, narrowly missing contact with the riverboat's starboard quarter. The tow drifted onwards toward shore, headed towards the moored ferry RTA1. The ferry boat quickly departed the dock before the head barge made contact with the ferry landing at low speed. 

In a statement, the Coast Guard said that the Robert L. Knight had been "pinned on to the bank piling at Algiers Point . . . due to strong winds." The incident is under investigation, and no damages or injuries were reported, according to the Coast Guard.  

The recently-built ferry was undamaged only because of the quick actions of its crew, according to New Orleans' public transit agency. 

“There is always potential for a mishap navigating that section of the Mississippi River, but we do not believe this scenario raises any major red flags," said the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority in a statement. "We would like to thank [ferry operator] LabMar, their captain and crew, whose quick actions were the reason contact was not made by the barges; that would have crushed the aluminum hull of the RTA1."

The Natchez is the last authentic steam-powered riverboat in New Orleans, and is the ninth vessel to bear the name. She was built in 1975, and she carries propulsion components and design elements from several earlier steamboats. She operates as a harbor tour and dinner-cruise boat.

The Natchez sustained an engine room fire in 2022 during repairs, but the blaze was quickly put out and was kept confined to one compartment. The damage was restored and the vessel returned to service.