A swing bridge over the Barataria Waterway in South Louisiana over-rotated into the navigable waterway before getting hit by a passing barge, federal investigators said.
The impact knocked the Barataria Bridge out of service for nearly a week. Repairs to the span, which links the towns of Jean Lafitte and Barataria, cost more than $500,000. The bridge was subsequently destroyed during Hurricane Ida in August 2021.
The incident happened on Nov. 22, 2020, at about 2122 as the tugboat Trent Joseph passed through the bridge with two barges and a trailing tugboat in tow. The corner of the aft barge, JMSS Mobile struck the protruding corner of the bridge, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined.
“When Trent Joseph was about 100 feet from the bridge, the captain saw with the spotlight that the swing span had ‘over-rotated’ and extended past the center fender wall,” the NTSB said in its report.
By that point, there was little the captains aboard Trent Joseph and the trailing tugboat George C. could to do avoid hitting it, the report said.
The tow got underway from a fleeting area at mile 10 west of the Intracoastal Waterway at about 2000 on Nov. 22 bound for Grand Isle, La. The 1,440-hp Trent Joseph was in the lead position towing barges KS 4513 and JMSS Mobile, which were connected stern to stern.
The 45-foot-wide KS 4513 was forward, and the 51-foot-wide JMSS Mobile was aft. The 1,000-hp George C. trailed the tow, connected to JMSS Mobile by a roughly 15-foot towline. Its role was to help steer and slow the tow as needed, the report said.
The tow approached the Barataria Bridge at about 2304 on the night of the accident. Trent Joseph’s captain called the bridge tender by radio. She told him she would begin opening the bridge. The bridge was logged as open at 2310.
The captain noticed that the two red lights marking the center bridge fender were not visible. He could only see green lights on the swing span, which caused uncertainty regarding which side of the bridge to pass through. He used a spotlight to look for the fenders when approaching the bridge.
The captain, who was not identified, did not notice the bridge had over-rotated into the channel until the tow was less than a minute away from hitting it. By then, there was little that could be done to avoid the collision.
Investigators found that the captain of George C. had a restricted view due to a crane and deck equipment loaded atop JMSS Mobile. He said he could not see the protruding swing span until Trent Joseph corrected to port and just before the barge struck it.
Photos taken at the scene and a post-accident survey report showed JMSS Mobile’s aft corner on the tow’s starboard side hit the swing span’s beam.
Due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, NTSB investigators were not able to physically examine the bridge structure, or its mechanical and electrical components, to determine why the bridge had rotated past the center fendering.
Work had been performed on the bridge four times in the weeks leading up to the collision. The bridge was owned and maintained by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).
Louisiana DOTD maintenance records indicated work had been conducted on the Barataria Bridge’s limit switches, which prevent the movement of the swing span beyond a predetermined point, two days before the incident.
“Although no detail was provided in the maintenance records as to what sort of work and return-to-service testing was conducted, these records indicate a recent issue with the span’s opening rotation limit,” the report said.
The bridge remained unusable until Nov. 28, according to investigators. A ferry was used to transport vehicles across the waterway during that time.
The owners of Trent Joseph and George C. declined to comment for this article. Louisiana DOTD did not respond to an inquiry from Professional Mariner. •