Barge string breaks free after towboat hits Upper Mississippi dike


Twelve barges broke away on the Upper Mississippi River near St. Louis after the towboat Kevin Michael hit a dike just upriver from a lock and dam.

The incident occurred shortly after midnight on Sept. 26 at Lock and Dam 25, located near Winfield, Mo. Six barges remained against the structure for more than a week, while six that had entered the lock were recovered soon afterward, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Scott Ross.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Meagan Scholten said the accident remains under investigation and the formal cause has not been determined. No one was injured and there was no environmental damage. The barges were carrying corn.

The 5,600-hp Kevin Michael was downbound with its 12-barge tow when it arrived at Lock and Dam 25, one of 27 such structures on the Upper Mississippi. While backing out of the lock as it attempted to separate its barge string, the towboat’s starboard stern hit a dike, Scholten said.

“With the lock structure, they can only push so many barges through at a time,” she said. “It is a common practice for the towing vessel to break their entire tow up into separate portions to get everything through.”

Upon impact, Scholten said, the barges “went everywhere.”

Authorities closed the lock for about 15 hours after the incident and sporadically over the next week. The lock was closed again on Oct. 5 to allow salvage crews to remove the six barges pinned against the dam.

The dam is made of concrete with steel gates. Inspectors examined the structure after the impact and “determined no immediate risks,” Ross said.

The incident at Lock and Dam 25 was the third casualty involving Kevin Michael in 15 months. According to Coast Guard records, the vessel grounded on July 12 and July 24 of 2017.

In the first incident, the towboat grounded at mile marker 702 on the Upper Mississippi near Lock and Dam 7, near Onalaska, Wis. Coast Guard records indicate a separate grounding occurred four days earlier in the same location, which is considered “a trouble area.”

Twelve days later, Kevin Michael grounded at mile marker 723 on the Upper Mississippi, near Winona, Minn., with 12 barges in tow. Coast Guard investigators noted three other vessels grounded in the same area shortly after Kevin Michael. “Additionally,” the Coast Guard acknowledged, “it was reported that several red buoys were missing.”

Kevin Michael’s ownership has changed many times since the towboat was built in 1957. Steel City Marine Transport of Freedom, Pa., now owns the vessel, according to Coast Guard records. A phone message left with the company seeking comment on the incident was not returned.

By Professional Mariner Staff