Tugs collide, one sinks during high-water conditions near Memphis

A tugboat sank after colliding with another tug near Memphis, Tenn., as the Mississippi River rose toward flood stage in December. 

The 184-foot William E. Strait’s hull was damaged and the tug sank in 20 feet of water. The vessel, owned by Western Rivers Boat Management in Kentucky, had collided with the 106-foot Margaret Ann while they attempted to pass one another on Dec. 14. Margaret Ann is owned by Magnolia Marine Transport. 

The vessels collided at midday at the river’s mile marker 727, south of the Interstate 55 bridge. No one was injured, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Brian Porter said. 

“Petroleum products leaked from the Strait, created a sheen and were sopped up with containment boom,” Porter said. “Divers from Budwine & Associates examined the Strait’s fuel vents. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did a trajectory to assess where the fuel would flow.”

Marine surveyors Budwine & Associates are based in Louisiana, with an office in Memphis.

The response effort included a 25-foot Coast Guard small-crew boat from the agency’s Sector Lower Mississippi River, along with a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry plane from its Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala. The Memphis Police Department, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and Environmental Safety and Health Inc., which has an office in Knoxville, were also involved. 

A safety zone, allowing one-way traffic, was established on the river from mile markers 726 to 728. A unified command, consisting of the Coast Guard, Western Rivers Boat Management and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, was formed.

“The William had on board a nine-man crew, who walked off the vessel onto William’s tow,” said Capt. Jason Strait, vice president of operations at Western Rivers Boat Management. “They boarded the M/V Paige L. Strait, which was there to assist.”

“An undetermined amount of fuel and oil products aboard the William were released,” Strait said in mid-February. According to NOAA, products of concern included 93,000 gallons of diesel, 2,344 gallons of lube oil and 600 gallons of other petroleum derivatives.

The wreck was salvaged when floodwaters began to recede. 

“The William was raised on Feb. 8, and it arrived at our Calvert City, Ky., facility for repair on Feb. 12,” Strait said. Louisiana-based McKinney Salvage & Heavy Lift, along with Big River Shipbuilders and Salvage Inc., retrieved the vessel.

The river had been high near Memphis since early December, Porter said. “But the hows, whats and whys of the accident are under Coast Guard investigation, and that could take a while,” he said in mid-February.

By Professional Mariner Staff