Collision between tanker and tow forces closure of a stretch of the Mississippi

A collision on April 23 between the tanker Stolt Creativity and a barge being pushed by the towboat Norb Whitlock forced the closure of the Mississippi near Geismer, La.

The tanker suffered minor damage, a 5-foot indent in the bow, and one of the tow’s 16 barges sank.

Initially the river was closed to all traffic for two days. Subsequently, a modified safety zone was imposed between Mile Marker 181 and 183 until salvage operations were completed on May 20, when all restrictions were lifted.

Stolt Creativity, a 580-foot deep-draft chemical tanker, owned by Stolt Nielsen of Norway, and the 176-foot towboat Norb Whitlock, owned by American Commercial Barge Lines LLC of Jefferson, Ind., were both northbound at Mile Marker 183 at about 1300. The towboat was pushing 16 hopper barges.

Lt. Cheri Ben-Iesau, of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office New Orleans, gave this account:

Stolt Creativity had been reducing speed as it prepared to moor at Shell’s Geismer dock. As the ship pulled up even with the dock in mid-river, its bow began to swing to port. Despite counter measures by the ship, its head continued to swing to port out into the river, striking the tow.

“The Stolt Creativity was in the middle of the river and not close to the bank when all of this happened,” she said.

The Norb Whitlock tow was struck in the middle. One of the hopper barges containing salt was hit by the bow of Stolt Creativity and sank 700 feet off the bank with about 48 feet of water over it.

Ben-Iesau said that following the accident both crews were subjected to drug and alcohol testing and all tested negative. Coast Guard inspectors and investigators could find no mechanical problems aboard Stolt Creativity.

“Stolt’s people also went over the vessel with a fine-tooth comb and found it mechanically sound after the collision,” she said.

By Professional Mariner Staff