Two towboats collide on lower Mississippi after one of them loses control of its barges

Two towboats collided on the Mississippi River after one vessel lost control of its tow while waiting for the other to pass. The impact sent 26 barges adrift.

The collision involving Golden Eagle and Mary Ann happened May 19 about 100 miles south of Memphis, Tenn. The Lower Mississippi River was closed to all vessel traffic for 13 hours after the accident at 0300.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Golden Eagle, owned by Marquette Transportation Co., of Paducah, Ky., was traveling south pushing 28 barges loaded with coal and grain. Mary Ann, owned by American Commercial Barge Line Co. (ACBL) of Jeffersonville, Ind., was headed north pushing 17 tank and hopper barges.

Golden Eagle, headed down-river, was turning to port to navigate a bend. As Mary Ann waited on the opposite bank of the river for Golden Eagle to pass, it lost control of its own tow in the river current, causing it to collide with the tow of Golden Eagle.

The tow of Mary Ann struck Golden Eagle on the port side, and the tows of both vessels broke apart and went adrift. There was some damage to the rake of a tank barge when it was pushed atop a grain barge. None of the barges sank, and the towboats were not damaged.

At the time of the accident, the river level was high and there was a safety advisory in effect limiting the size of tows based upon horsepower, said Coast Guard Lt. Michael Block, chief of the inspections division for Sector Lower Mississippi River.

“There is not much room for error on this part of the river, and these vessels do not have bow thrusters,” he said. The lieutenant did not recall the horsepower of either towboat, but confirmed that “they were both adequately powered for the conditions.” He said that visibility was not a factor in the accident.

Block noted that no aids to navigation were present. “Most of the buoys get washed ashore when the river is this high,” he said.

During the closure, 15 vessels and their tows were delayed until all 26 barges had been accounted for. There were no injuries or pollution as a result of the accident. All crewmembers tested negative for drugs and alcohol.

Kim Durbin, spokesperson for ACBL, said Mary Ann never left service. Calls to Marquette Transportation were not returned. The accident was still under investigation in July.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff