Crew rescued after towboats and barges collide during overtaking

Good Samaritan vessel Redeemer, foreground, assists the towboat Caroline in the Intracoastal Waterway. Caroline partially sank after a collision. Redeemer rescued five crew and retrieved loose barges. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the cause of a collision between two towboats and their barges in the Intracoastal Waterway near Port Arthur, Texas.

Both Caroline and Miss Stacie were pushing barges when the accident happened at 0700 on Aug. 11, 2009. The Coast Guard said one tow was overtaking the other when they collided.

The 81-foot Caroline, operated by Canal Barge Co. of New Orleans, partially sank. Good Samaritan vessel Redeemer rescued Caroline’s entire crew of five and retrieved its loose barges. The Intracoastal Waterway was closed to marine traffic for about eight hours.

Both vessels were westbound. Caroline was pushing five tank barges. The 56-foot Miss Stacie pushed two deck barges and two hopper barges. Miss Stacie is owned by Double Eagle Marine LLC, of New Iberia, La.

After the accident, the 251-gross-ton Caroline was down at the stern and all five crewmen were saved with no injuries. Miss Stacie and its tow were able to continue to their destination when the waterway reopened at about 1500.

The master and crew of Caroline are to be commended, said Joe Tyson, Canal Barge’s vice president of operations and technical services. “Immediately after ensuring the safety of her crew, she had the presence of mind to direct them to boom off the vessel to contain any oil that might escape from the Caroline.”

Redeemer, a 74-foot-long towing vessel, saved the crew and rounded up Caroline’s five barges. They were pushed to Houston by the towboat Coushatta, also owned by Canal Barge.

“There was minimal structure damage to the hull of the Caroline with some damage to the superstructure of the second deck,” Tyson said. “The lead barge in the tow of the Miss Stacie sustained minor damage to the bottom plating of its lead barge.”

Coast Guard officials wouldn’t specify which tow was doing the overtaking. The Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Port Arthur responded to the collision, said J. J. Plunkett, the unit’s commanding officer of the Marine Safety Unit Port Arthur and captain of the port. The unified command also included Texas General Land Office and Oil Mop. Redeemer served as the on-scene command center, said Tyson.

A dozen towboats were held up behind the collision, said Roland Kennedy, chief dispatcher with the Sabine Pilots. The port of Port Arthur remained open.

“This was really a success story. … no injuries, no environmental damage and excellent cooperation among all entities,” Plunkett said.

Tyson said repairs to Caroline were to be completed in January.

“The Caroline, an 81-foot, 1980-era vessel, was first taken to Bollinger Shipyard at Calcasieu by the Josset for further dewatering and preservation of the machinery,” Tyson said. “From there the vessel was taken to AEP Shipyard in New Orleans for inspection and repair.”

Larry Pearson

By Professional Mariner Staff