Barges crash into rocks that serve as armor for levee at sharp bend in Mississippi River

A tow containing 14 barges struck rocks that protect the Mississippi River levee near New Orleans.

The accident involving the towing vessel Limestone Lady happened at about 0800 on June 21, 2011, across from the city's French Quarter. The 134-foot towboat, pushing empty barges, was heading upriver when the 6,140-hp vessel ran into difficulty in the sharp bend on the Mississippi, at Algiers Point in New Orleans.

It was raining and winds were about 17 knots, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth Bordelon, a spokeswoman with U.S. Coast Guard Sector New Orleans. Limestone Lady was heading for Bayou Fleet, in Hahnville, La. The starboard corner of the barges struck the rocks along the levee — called armoring — near the Governor Nicholls Street Wharf.

"He was where he was supposed to be," said Bruno Touchard, supervisor at Vessel Traffic Services, Lower Mississippi River, in an interview broadcast by WWL-TV in New Orleans. "He had a good point on the boat, and he just starts to set."

As Limestone Lady approached the bank, the vessel slowed to nearly full stop. "He appeared to stop the tow from setting as hard as it was and the area that he decided to … land the tow was the safest place," said Touchard. "There was no other vessels around. It was just an empty dock with an empty barge there."

Touchard declined to answer further questions from Professional Mariner.

Limestone Lady is operated by Paducah, Ky.-based Marquette Transportation Co., which had no comment on the incident.

After Limestone Lady struck the rocks, a 53-foot towing vessel, Mr. Cass, stood by as a contingency plan, in case the tow broke up, according to Bordelon. Mr. Cass is operated by Cass Marine Group of Slidell, La.

Limestone Lady was alongside the levee for less than 45 minutes, and then continued upriver.

A team from the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District inspected the armoring.

"We went down to check to see if anything was badly damaged, that we would have to replace or repair," said Rachel Rodi, an Army Corps spokeswoman. "Our inspectors noticed no damage above the water level."

There were no injuries and no pollution. The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff