Barges break loose after towboat strikes Mississippi River bridge

The towboat Joyce Hale pushing barges down the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn., last year. In January 2010, the 6,000-hp boat and its tow struck an interstate highway bridge that crosses the river at Caruthersville, Mo., causing its 20 loaded barges to break free. (Courtesy Dick’s Towboat Gallery/Ed Tremewan)

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating why a towboat pushing 20 loaded barges struck the I-155 bridge on the Mississippi River near Caruthersville, Mo., breaking loose several barges.

The river was closed to all traffic from mile marker 840 to mile marker 833 for about two hours after the Jan. 18 accident involving the 6,000-hp towing vessel Joyce Hale. The Coast Guard said neither weather nor water conditions seemed to be a factor in the collision.

The 170-foot Joyce Hale, owned and operated by American River Transport Co. (ARTCO), was traveling southbound with a mixed cargo of coal, rock and grain at about 1700 when it struck the bridge that connects Dyersburg, Tenn., and Caruthersville.

The barges dispersed following the collision and were recovered by other tugs in the area, said Lt. Michael Block, chief of the inspections division for Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi River. None of the barges sank, and there was no pollution as a result of the accident. There were no injuries.

The total number of barges that broke loose was unavailable.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is responsible for inspecting the bridge. Jorma Duran, a department spokesman, said the bridge was closed to all vehicle traffic from 1700 to 2030 while inspectors looked for damage. Duran said that the bridge was reopened to vehicle traffic at 2030 “because no damage was found that would make this bridge unsafe for motorists or river traffic.”

Block said weather and river conditions were not a factor in the accident. “The water was quite low, but not in the low-water warning or action phase,” he said. Block would not comment on whether mechanical problems played a role in the collision. Nor would he comment on further details of the collision or possible causes, due to an ongoing investigation.

Beth Chandler, a spokeswoman for ARTCO, a subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland Co., declined to comment on the accident.

The Coast Guard also would not comment on the results of drug and alcohol testing of the Joyce Hale crew. The investigation was still in progress in early March.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff