Captain of a Mississippi towboat is killed
after his vessel snags a barge and sinks

Divers located the master in the wheelhouse of the towboat the day after it sank about 20 miles upriver of New Orleans. Gate-Way is shown here after it was salvaged by its owners. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The master of a small towboat was killed when his vessel sank while maneuvering a barge on the lower Mississippi River in January.

The body of Capt. Steven Andrew Boudreaux, 35, of Houma, La., was found in the wheelhouse of the towboat Gate-Way following the accident shortly before 0645 Jan 2, the Coast Guard said.

The incident happened at mile marker 126.5 in the vicinity of the Motiva Enterprises oil refinery at Norco, La., about 20 miles upriver from New Orleans. The site is near the Bonnet Carre Spillway and Lake Pontchartrain.

Boudreaux’s 52-foot towboat was at work adding a hopper barge to an existing barge configuration that was under the control of the 125-foot towboat Secretariat.

“Gate-Way reportedly snagged the head line connecting it to the barge that (it) was pushing, lost stability, capsized and sank,” a Coast Guard incident report said.

Some of the 16 barges contained coking coal and others grain at the time of the capsizing. Boudreaux’s deck hand was on the barge being moved by Gate-Way. The deck hand escaped injury.

Coast Guard vessels, one local rescue boat and four good Samaritan vessels began searching for the captain. McKinney Salvage & Heavy Lift Inc., of Baton Rouge, conducted a survey of the sunken vessel, and divers located Boudreaux’s body in the wheelhouse one day after the accident.

The deck hand and other witnesses reported that it took between two and five minutes for the towboat to sink.

At the time, winds were 15 knots, river speed was 4 knots and visibility was 10 nautical miles. The water temperature was 46 degrees. The tugs were operating near the river’s left descending bank.

Gate-Way’s owner is Specialty Marine Services Inc., of Lutcher, La. The vessel was built in 1984. Its draft is 6 feet.

Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau, the Coast Guard’s chief of investigations for Sector New Orleans, said the 46-gross-ton Gate-Way had limited mobility after the head line snagged.

“The vessel was maneuvering in a manner which allowed the stern to list to port so much that the stern was pushed under the current of the river,” Ben-Iesau said. “The head line didn’t allow the tug to maneuver away from the barge.”

Representatives of Specialty Marine Service did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The owner salvaged the vessel five days after the accident. Before that, the position was marked with a buoy. There were no reports of any disruptions to other marine traffic on the river.

Gate-Way was carrying 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel. About 50 gallons spilled but was contained by absorbent boom. A 55-gallon drum containing used motor oil was found floating in the water and was recovered.

By Professional Mariner Staff