All barges recovered; cause of accident investigated

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NATCHEZ — After spending the night wrapped around the piers of the Mississippi River Bridge, three barges, broken free from a fleet the night before, were removed on Tuesday evening.

Their recovery, while uneventful, marked the end of full-scale barge wrangling effort that began the night before.

Coast Guard Lt. Teresa Hatfield said barges were recovered from approximately 20 miles away.

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On Monday at approximately 9 p.m., a 24-barge fleet traveling south on the river struck the bridge’s pier sending unmanned barges floating downstream.

One of the barges struck a stationary barge belonging to a cement company and another struck the Grand Soleil Casino, under construction at the Natchez-Adams Port.

Grand Soleil’s marketing director Baxter Lee said one of the tugboats needed to reposition the casino boat against the port’s dock was unavailable on Monday and casino officials had limited access to the boat.

Lee said the casino will be repositioned at the dock today and the boat will be inspected.

It was initially believed that the barge strike had caused the casino to fill with water, however this was later found not to be the case, Lee said.

But what exactly caused the barges to collide with the bridge is still unknown.

All of the barges and the tugboat, the Robert N. Stout, involved in Monday’s accident are owned by Ingram Barge Company.

Ingram spokesman Keel Hunt said at the time of the accident the barges and tugboat were being operated by Inland Marine Services.

Inland President Dave Hammond said the cause of the accident was still under investigation on Tuesday.

Hammond said a “root cause analysis,” could be ready in as little as two days.

While Hammond would not name the tugboat’s captain, he did say he was very grateful no one was injured in the accident.

Hatfield said no other damage aside from the casino was reported.

For a portion of the day one of the 24 barges could not be accounted for but was later found.

Hunt said of the stray fleet some were tank barges, carrying liquids, some carried dry cargo and others, like the ones tangled on the bridge, were empty.

“There were no spills,” he said.

Hunt said he was unaware of what most of the barges were hauling.

On Monday, before the barges could be removed, Adams County Civil Defense Director, Stan Owens, and officials from the Mississippi Department of Transportation inspected the bridge.

MDOT’s executive director Butch Brown said impact on the bridge, like Monday’s, are not cause for concern since the bridge is built with their likelihood in mind.

While MDOT officials could not be reached, Owens said initial reports have revealed no cause for concern.

Coast Guard Master Chief Stuart Slech said traffic on the river is expected to be flowing normally by today.

Slech said river traffic had to be closed while all of the barges were re-assembled into a fleet.

The wake generated by passing vessels during the period of re-assembly would have made gathering the fleet more difficult and provide conditions conducive to loosing barges again Slech said.