Tennessee towboat sinks after mayday, killing both men aboard


One crewman died and another is missing and presumed dead after a towboat sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tenn.

Capt. Keith Pigram and deck hand Anquavious Jamison, Pigram’s stepson, were aboard the 66-foot Ricky Robinson when it went down at mile marker 731 on Dec. 8. Pigram broadcast a mayday at 1141 saying the boat was sinking.

Jamison, 19, was found dead inside the vessel nine days later. Pigram’s body has not been recovered.

The U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident. The cause has not been determined.

The 1,400-hp Ricky Robinson was heading south when it sank and was not moving barges at the time, said Lt. Rita Walter of Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi River in Memphis. She referred other questions to a Coast Guard spokeswoman in New Orleans who declined to comment further.

Authorities closed the river from mile marker 724 to 734 to search for the two men over the next 30 hours. Six commercial vessels joined federal, state and local law enforcement in the air and water operation.

Ricky Robinson, owned by Wepfer Marine, sank in about 65 feet of water near President’s Island, two miles farther south than the Coast Guard initially believed. Industrial facilities on the island’s southeast side are connected to the Mississippi River by a short channel. Wepfer Marine also is based on the island.

The company issued a series of statements after the accident expressing condolences to the victims’ family and friends. The notices also described challenges associated with salvaging the towboat.

“The vessel is in a very deep part of the Mississippi River … (with) virtually no visibility, and an area with swift and dangerous currents,” Ralph Berry, a public relations executive with Sullivan Branding, said in a prepared statement Dec. 12. “These conditions will make salvage of the vessel a complicated multiday, multistep process with unique equipment requirements and modifications.”

Three days later, Berry said salvage crews moved the towboat closer to shore and were preparing to flip it over. The salvage team raised the vessel on Dec. 17. Memphis police later identified the body found inside as Jamison.

Ricky Robinson was the second Wepfer Marine vessel to sink in three months on the river. The fleet boat Miss Pat sank on Sept. 24 near Lake Ferguson, Miss. No injuries were reported in that accident, which also remains under investigation by the Coast Guard.

By Professional Mariner Staff