Barge and tow collision, oil spill force closure of Lower Mississippi

A barge and towing vessel collided near Vacherie, La., spilling oil and forcing authorities to close the Lower Mississippi River for almost two days.

The Feb. 22 incident occurred near the river’s mile marker 154. U.S. Coast Guard spokesman William Colclough in New Orleans said 31,500 gallons of light crude oil poured into the river. The cause of the collision, including the directions of the vessels, is under Coast Guard investigation.

E2MS 303 is a 29,200-barrel, double-hulled barge owned by E Squared Marine Service LLC in Texas. It was one of two barges being pushed by the 84.5-foot  Hannah C. Settoon . The barge collided with the 168-foot Lindsay Ann Erickson, which was pushing grain barges. Lindsay Ann Erickson is operated by Marquette Transportation Co. 

Alex Pucheu, general counsel for Settoon Towing, said he couldn’t comment on details of the accident during the investigation. Marquette Transportation didn’t respond to emails or phone calls.

Coast Guard Sector New Orleans received the collision and spill report from the National Response Center at 1530. After that, a 65-mile stretch of the river from marker 90 to 155, including the Port of New Orleans, was temporarily closed to avoid contaminating boats and to prevent oil from spreading downriver. More than 30 vessels were left waiting to sail.

During the closure, the Coast Guard allowed two ships —  Carnival Sunshine  owned by Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Jewel run by Norwegian Cruise Line — to leave New Orleans on Feb. 23 for the G ulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard reopened the 40 miles from New Orleans heading upriver on the morning of Feb. 24, with restrictions. The 25 miles from marker 130 to 155, extending from the accident site downriver, opened that afternoon.

The response effort included the state, parishes and private companies. The cleanup lasted from Feb. 22 to March 1, said Coast Guard spokesman Jonathan Lally in New Orleans. It was led by the Unified Command set up for the accident, consisting of the Coast Guard, the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, the spill removal firm Environmental Safety & Health (ES&H) in Houma, La., and Forefront Emergency Management in Texas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness and the parishes of St. James, St. John the Baptist and St. Charles all participated.

Response crews working with ES&H laid containment boom to protect water intakes serving three parishes in the area. St. Charles Parish issued a Feb. 23 notice saying that its two intakes on the river had been closed and fortified with boom. Drinking water there was safe, the parish said. The Unified Command confirmed that the spill did not contaminate the region’s water supplies.

Residents next to the river’s levee appeared to be unaffected by fumes from the spill, St. James Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Eric Deroche said in March. The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, a consulting firm in New Orleans, monitored air near the spill, but detected no pollution threats to the public. The Coast Guard said there were no reports of oiled wildlife in the days following the accident.

After the incident, a flight taken by the Unified Command and state on-scene coordinators assessed the stretch of affected water. When the river was considered safe to reopen on Feb. 24 with restrictions, mariners had to comply with a broadcast notice issued by the Coast Guard for river transits.

By Professional Mariner Staff