Face wire parts, sending 15 barges adrift in Mississippi River

A tow consisting of 15 coal barges broke apart on the Mississippi River in St. Louis after a steel cable parted, the U.S. Coast Guard said. One barge struck a railroad bridge.

Mississippi River traffic was halted when towboat Cindy Celeste‘s tow broke apart at mile marker 177.5 on Oct. 31, 2009, not far from the Gateway Arch. The river was closed for about five hours from mile marker 179.2 to mile marker 178.

The accident occurred as the southbound Cindy Celeste was proceeding downriver in the vicinity of the MacArthur Bridge. The tow of loaded coal barges broke apart when a face wire, or steel cable connecting the towboat to the barges, parted due to the failing of the swaged fitting, according to Coast Guard Marine Safety Specialist Ancil Brown, of Sector Upper Mississippi River.

The accident occurred at about 1140. Brown said the river was 30 feet above normal, and an advisory had been posted. When the tow broke apart, 13 of the barges drifted downriver and were recovered by several towboats working in the area. Of the remaining two barges, one struck the MacArthur Bridge and was pinned against its eastern pier. The other barge sank in the channel about 100 feet south of the bridge.

Once engineers determined that there was no damage to the bridge, the river was reopened to traffic. The Coast Guard issued a warning to mariners that the barge wedged against the bridge pier was obstructing the channel by about 30 to 40 feet. Mariners were advised to use caution when navigating the bridge.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff