The Sabine-Neches Channel at Intracoastal Waterway mile marker 279 near Port Arthur, Texas, was closed to deep-draft vessels for two days after a towboat and one of its barges ran aground on March 12.
The towboat Kacie Luhr was pushing four rock barges when one of them became unstable and lost cargo. The towboat then began taking on water.
Kacie Luhr reported at 1520 that it was taking on water and that one of its deck barges had lost about 1,650 tons of rock into the navigation channel, according to Lt. Christopher Coutu, an investigator with U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Port Arthur.
When the aft starboard barge lost the cargo, it became unbalanced, causing its rake to rise up on the towboat’s starboard towing knee and push the boat’s bow down. The vessels drifted out of the channel and grounded. The two forward barges were disconnected from the tow and picked up by a nearby vessel. The Coast Guard responded with small boats and transported all crewmembers from the towing vessel to the safety of a nearby tug.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also responded and located the channel blockage with sonar. Sabine Pilots Association and a team from Galveston-based T&T Marine Salvage Inc. were brought on scene to disengage the barge from the push knee of the towboat and to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to remove the stone blocking the channel.
The instability of the starboard stern barge was caused by water in the No. 2 wing void, Coutu explained. There was a hole in the deck of the barge that could not be seen with the cargo loaded. Also, a door between the barge’s interior bulkheads was open. When loaded, the barge deck sat approximately 6 inches above the surface of the water. During the voyage, water may have entered the barge through the hole in the deck, filling the wing void. The unstable barge then lost its cargo and rode up on the towboat’s push knee.
A survey of the towboat found only minor damage. Once the barge was extricated from the towboat, the towboat floated free and was able to assist in the salvage operation.
The waterway was opened to all traffic on March 15.