A barge carrying coal ash hit a jetty marking the entrance to the St. Johns River east of Jacksonville, Fla., with the breached vessel ultimately grounding more than a mile south on the Atlantic shoreline after being towed away.
The tugboat Margery had the 418-foot Bridgeport under tow when the barge hit a submerged section of the south jetty at about 1440 on March 22. The impact damaged the barge’s port side but did not cause any pollution.
“They were shortening the towline and apparently got out of shape with the heavy weather and seas and the barge struck the south jetty,” said Andrew Legge, compliance manager for Dann Ocean Towing, which operates the 4,500-hp Margery.
Crews partially refloated the barge with the rising ride, albeit with a heavy portside list from flooding into the void spaces near the hull breach. Later in the day, Margery was attempting to pull the barge off the jetty when the towing wire parted. Another Dann Ocean Towing vessel, Stephen Dann, diverted to Jacksonville to assist in the effort. The 3,600-hp tugboat towed Bridgeport away from the navigation channel late on March 22.
“They towed it directly south of the jetties along the beach,” Legge said. “It ended up grounding a mile and a half south of the jetties in sand about a mile off the beach.”
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the incident but has not determined a cause, according to a spokesman in Jacksonville.
Margery and Bridgeport were en route to the Port of Jacksonville after a routine voyage from Puerto Rico. Exact sea conditions were not known, but a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather station located inside the jetties registered winds between 23 and 30 mph at about the time of the grounding. Legge said the northeast winds pushed the barge toward the south jetty.
The barge was carrying more than 28 million pounds of fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. Also known as Agremax, the ash is typically used as landfill cover and construction fill. None of the cargo escaped into the waterway.
Bridgeport is typically towed off the stern of a tugboat while at sea. The barge has a notch in its stern, allowing tugs to push it when approaching port facilities. Margery does not have a coupling system to pair with the barge.
Global Diving & Salvage oversaw efforts to refloat the barge. Lightering began on April 12 with the arrival of the Farrell 256 crane barge and the 2,000-ton hopper barge JMC 171. About 800 tons of cargo had been removed as of April 14, although the barge remained aground pending further work.