Barges break loose in Illinois River, come to rest against dam

Click here to view U.S. Coast Guard photos of the runaway barges.

The following is the text of a press release issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:

(MARSEILLES, Ill.) — The Coast Guard is investigating a marine casualty that occurred Thursday evening on the Illinois River at the Marseilles Dam. 

Marine investigators from Marine Safety Unit Chicago responded to a report that the motor vessel Dale A. Heller, a 128-foot towing vessel, lost control of its tow due to strong river currents from Thursday’s heavy rainfall. Seven of the Dale A. Heller's 14 barges subsequently broke free and came to rest against the Marseilles Dam.

No injuries or pollution have been reported, although minor damage has been reported to the Marseilles Dam and three cargo barges are partially submerged at the dam. 

Currently there are no reports of breaches in the dam or surrounding levees as a result of the incident. Flood water is at a record high on the Illinois River and water is flowing over surrounding levees.

The Dale A. Heller was down bound on the Illinois River approaching the entrance to the Marseilles Lock canal when strong river currents pushed the tow toward the dam. The captain of the towing vessel did not report any damage to his vessel from the incident.

The Marseilles Police Department shut down the Main Street Bridge, located directly downstream of the Marseilles Dam, as a safety precaution in case the barges pass through the dam.

Marine Safety Unit Chicago Marine investigators are on scene conducting interviews and ensuring drug and alcohol tests are conducted on all involved personnel. A unified command is being established at the La Quinta Inn in Peru, Ill. to oversee salvage operations and ensure public safety in the vicinity of the dam. The Unified Command will be made up of members from the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, Marseilles Police Department, and the responsible party.

By Professional Mariner Staff