At least 50 barges break away near St. Louis, pose 'immediate danger'

The following is the text of a press release issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:

(ST. LOUIS) — The Coast Guard Captain of the Port St. Louis has set a safety zone on the Mississippi river due to barges breaking away, Saturday.

The safety zone will extend from MM 155 to MM 170. The waterway is closed to all vessels except those directly involved in recovery efforts.

At approximately 10:30 p.m., Saturday, watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River received a call that between 50 and 80 barges had broken free of their moorings.  These barges were floating freely and represented an immediate danger to facilities and bridges in the Port of St. Louis.  The boats that tend the barge fleets responded and began securing the barges as they could.  There were a total of 104 barges impacted by the breakaway.  Most have been secured, nine barges full of coal sunk, one of them sunk in or near the navigation channel at mile marker 166 near Cliff Cave Park.  11 barges are still unaccounted for. All of the tank barges with hazardous cargo have been accounted for and are safe.   

During the breakaway the Jefferson Barracks Bridge was struck approximately four times. Missouri Department of Transportation closed the bridge and completed an initial survey.  They have since opened one lane of the bridge until they can make a more complete survey today.

"Working to ensure the safety of life is paramount," said Cmdr. Scott Stoermer, Deputy Sector Commander for Sector Upper Mississippi River. "High water conditions, like those St. Louis is experiencing now, can pose a significant and very dynamic risk.  The Coast Guard urges everyone to be cautious of the river and extends a thank you to the fleet and barge operators in St. Louis harbor for such a valiant effort to control last night’s breakaway without any safety incidents."

The Coast Guard is completing an over flight of the area this morning.  

Mariners shall not enter into, depart from, or move within the safety zone unless specifically authorized by the Captain of the Port St. Louis or a designated representative. All concerned mariners may contact Sector Upper Mississippi River at 314-269-2332 or the Coast Guard on VHF-FM channel 16.

By Professional Mariner Staff