Scores of vessels get loose in New Orleans during Hurricane Gustav

More than 70 vessels broke loose from their moorings in the New Orleans Industrial Canal during Hurricane Gustav.

The U.S. Coast Guard said all but one of the wayward vessels belonged to one company, Southern Scrap. They caused considerable damage to structures along the canal, and many of the vessels themselves were damaged or sank.

The ships and barges broke free despite a pre-hurricane Coast Guard order that all mariners must ensure that their vessels in the canal were properly moored. The captain of the port ordered mariners to complete a safety checklist, double mooring lines and set anchors.

Southern Scrap spokesman Malcolm Ehrhardt said the company followed the heavy weather protection plan it filed with the Coast Guard. The winds and storm surge during Gustav broke the lines anyway. The company declined to say exactly what steps were taken to secure the vessels.

Southern Scrap is a recycler and a major scrapper of barges and other vessels. The company had more than 150 vessels of various types tied off when Gustav arrived Sept. 1.

Three decommissioned Navy vessels and many other vessels drifted north and west and ran aground on the north and west sides of the turning basin.

The New Orleans-area maritime infrastructure escaped the major damage predicted before Gustav’s arrival. A few rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico went missing, but the damage was much less severe than that caused by Hurricane Katrina.

As Hurricane Ike approached later in September, the Coast Guard ordered Southern Scrap to remove all of its vessels from the Industrial Canal, also known as the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC). The Coast Guard prohibited the company from keeping any boats in the canal until the hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

“Southern Scrap has not shown the ability to follow the safety plan as hurricanes approach this port,†Coast Guard Sector Commander Capt. Lincoln Stroh wrote.

The orders to Southern Scrap included a statement “requiring that all floating vessels at your facility, and those that you own, be moved completely out of the IHNC, turning basin, and intracoastal waterway in vicinity of the IHNC during Hurricane season.â€

The runaway vessels caused millions of dollars in damage, according to port officials. A ship rammed a dolphin protecting a pumping station that took floodwaters out of New Orleans.

Many grounded barges became navigation hazards in the canal. A loose hopper barge caused $2.5 million in damage to the system that protects the Almonaster Railroad Bridge when it lodged against structures protecting the bridge. The same barge caused concern because of its location near a natural gas pipeline.

The scrap company has continued to operate after the hurricane, under close Coast Guard supervision.

“Southern Scrap has been allowed to shuttle four hopper barges in and out of their property in the normal course of scrapping vessels,†Stroh said. “They also have moved some assets to Mississippi and upriver to St. Charles Parish.â€

Tri-Dyne Industries was perhaps the unluckiest company on the canal. A group of 12 barges smashed into its yard, destroying two warehouses. As of October, the barges were still on Tri-Dyne’s property, but company president Joel Sproules said, “Somebody is working to remove them.â€

—Larry Pearson

By Professional Mariner Staff