|The tug Yankee and its patroleum barge went aground on a sandbar near the entrance to Tampa Bay. The barge remained stuck for two days but no oil spilled.
The Coast Guard is investigating what caused a large fuel barge to run aground at the entrance to the Tampa Bay shipping channel.
The incident happened at 1745 on April 2 while the tug Yankee was pushing a 441-foot barge, which was loaded with fuel oil. The barge grounded on a sandbar about three miles west of Egmont Key, the Coast Guard said.
Thatâ€™s not an area where commercial mariners typically operate, said Petty Officer Robert Simpson, a Coast Guard spokesman. The barge grounded near the well-marked entrance to the shipping channel.
â€œThey went outside of the channel,â€ Simpson said.
No fuel leaked from the double-hull barge, which was stuck on the sandbar for two days and eventually had to be carefully lightered.
Yankee exited the channel just before Buoys No. 13 and 14, which mark the mouth of Tampa Bay, Simpson said. Inbound traffic is supposed to continue in a straight line eastbound for another 1.5 miles before making a course change to starboard.
Instead, Yankee turned to starboard in front of Buoy No. 14. The barge grounded very quickly on the shoal â€” just a few barge lengths south of the channel.
The Coast Guard investigators made no mention of mechanical problems or of currents that could have affected the vesselâ€™s course. Visibility at the time of the grounding was good. In that location, the ocean bottom consists of sand and mud, said Coast Guard Capt. Joseph A. Servidio, the captain of the Port of Tampa. The water depth outside the channel is changeable because of shifting sand.
The 150-foot Yankee and the barge had just come from Houston and were scheduled to call at Progress Energy Inc.â€™s Bartow power plant at St. Petersburgâ€™s Weedon Island. The tug is owned by K-Sea Transportation Partnership LP.
Yankeeâ€™s crew was experienced and very familiar with the track line into Tampa Bay, said K-Sea spokesman Mike Hanson.
â€œThat particular combination â€” the tug and barge and the crew â€” makes that run fairly often,â€ Hanson said.
K-Sea did not have an explanation for the grounding, Hanson said.
Yankeeâ€™s barge refloated after a tug and barge from Bouchard Transportation Co. lightered about 20,000 gallons of the total cargo of 119,000 gallons of fuel oil, the Coast Guard said. Earlier, the tug Buccaneer made an unsuccessful attempt to refloat the vessel at high tide. Then two other tugs â€” Tampa and Gasparilla â€” joined Buccaneer, but that flotilla also failed to dislodge the barge from the sandbar.
The Coast Guard sent Yankee and the refloated barge to an anchorage nine miles west of Egmont Key for inspection, which included American Bureau of Shipping surveyors. Hanson said the barge had only minor scrapes.
Yankeeâ€™s crew underwent alcohol and drug testing. The Coast Guard declined to release results of the alcohol screening. The drug-test analysis wasnâ€™t yet finished in May, Simpson said.
The Coast Guard issued marine broadcasts warning recreational boaters and fishing vessels to stay away from the area. Because the stuck barge was outside the shipping channel, commercial traffic was unaffected.