0hio River traffic was halted for more than 12 hours and traffic on a nearby interstate highway bridge was disrupted for several hours following a Feb. 27 accident involving a barge carrying 960,000 gallons of highly flammable cumene. The accident occurred at about 1930 when a barge pushed by the 2,600-hp towboat Kimberly Jane struck and then hung up on a submerged lock wall at Ohio River Locks and Dam 52 at Mile 938.9.
The next morning, Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Paducah, Ky., closed the river to all commercial traffic when it was discovered the 297.5-by-54-foot barge had leaked approximately 10,000 gallons of the hazardous cargo into the river. Cumene is the common name for isopropyl benzene, a hydrocarbon derived from crude oil.
Cumene is a central nervous system depressant that, in high concentrations, may cause narcotic effects and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, but air samples from the bridge and other locations in the area indicated no serious environmental problems.
Lt. Wayne Chapman said the river was closed to navigation as a precaution because cumene is a highly flammable liquid. The volatile liquid quickly dissipated, he explained.
Vehicular traffic on the Interstate 24 bridge, 1.9 miles downstream, was slowed as air quality samples were taken to ensure there was no serious threat to residents in two nearby Illinois towns, Brookport or Metropolis.
Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Rice, the Coast Guard senior investigating officer, said there were conflicting statements about what lead up to the accident. A final report was expected to be released mid-April.
It is known, however, that the 90-by-30 foot towboat Kimberly Jane was headed upriver below the lowered navigation pass at Dam 52 with one loaded barge when it veered outside the marked channel and struck the submerged lock wall, which was covered by approximately 6 feet of water. The barge, Kirby 31300, was loaded to a 9-foot draft.
Lockmaster Ed Marshall said the normal pool at Locks and Dam 52 is 18.7 feet. When the gauge reaches between 19 and 20 feet, the dam’s moveable wickets are dropped to the bottom of the river and traffic passes freely over the lowered wickets. The river was at 28.1 feet at the time of the accident and was rising at approximately a 10th of a foot per hour, he noted.
Marshall said there was never any communication with the pilot prior to the accident and it was several minutes after the barge struck the wall before lock personnel were able to establish radio contact.
The stranded barge and Kimberly Jane are both owned by Kirby Inland Marine, Houston, Texas. Another Kirby towboat, the 3,200-hp Louie Leone was in the Paducah area and was dispatched to the scene with an empty barge to receive the stricken barge’s cargo in a lightering operation intended to free the stranded barge.
Around 2100 the situation quickly deteriorated. As Louie Leone was positioning the empty barge, the 108-by-32-foot towboat struck another submerged lock wall, breaching the hull at several points along the port side. The engine room flooded and Louie Leone also became stranded.
By midnight, thanks to the response of several local harbor tugs with extra pumps, water levels had only reached the bottom of the main engines, but Louie Leone had resorted to battery power for radio communications after the generator room was swamped.
Salvage efforts were successful, and the flooding was checked, although the boat remained lodged on the wall. At dawn, the rising river had floated the disabled vessel off the lock wall. Louie Leone was towed downstream and shoved against the Illinois shore, where pumping efforts were augmented by a high-capacity air-driven pump aboard Kimberly Jane, which had left its stranded barge to assist Louie Leone.
Around 0900 the rising river lifted the barge free. As it spiraled downriver, responders scrambled to separate Kimberly Jane from Louie Leone so it could corral the runaway barge. Kimberly Jane managed to capture Kirby 31300, which was also moved to the Illinois shore alongside the empty barge, where the remaining cargo was transferred.
Louie Leone was moved to Walker Boat Yard in Paducah for repairs and was back in service two days later heading to Greenville, Miss., with Kirby 31300, which had undergone temporary repairs. Kimberly Jane continued up the Ohio to Mt. Vernon, Ind.