Report on barge crash not done

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 10, 2008

NATCHEZ — The official investigation from the April 29 barge accident on the Mississippi River is still incomplete.

Coast Guard Lt. Teresa Hatfield said the investigation is still ongoing.

Hatfield said the Coast Guard is interviewing individuals involved with the accident and hopes to have the investigation concluded soon.

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But even after the investigation is complete, the Coast Guard must send the results to the main office for finalization Hatfield said.

“They have a backlog there,” she said.

Hatfield said once the investigation is finalized it could be weeks or even months before the results are made public.

Hatfield did say the accident was “certainly related to current river conditions.”

And Hatfield is not alone in her assertion.

At the time of the accident the barges and tugboat were being operated by Inland Marine Services.

Inland’s President David Hammond said, the river’s swift current played a major role in the accident.

Hammond said a root cause analysis, done internally, showed the barges were pulled to the pier by the unusually swift current.

“It basically placed his tow on the pier,” he said.

Hammond said he had no reason to believe the boat’s pilot was responsible for the accident.

“He’s a very seasoned fellow,” he said.

After striking the bridge, the fleet of barges broke apart and floated, unmanned, downriver.

Three of the barges remained tangled on the bridge’s piers for nearly 24 hours.

Another barge struck a moored barge at a cement company and then the Grand Soliel casino boat.

The night of the accident, April 29, local first responders thought the casino was taking on water and was in danger of sinking.

However the casino’s director of marketing Baxter Lee said the boat is just fine.

It took several days before the boat could be properly inspected, as the collision pushed the casino boat away from the dock and debris served as an impediment to returning the boat to its proper place.

The debris was so tightly packed it was too difficult for a tugboat to push the boat back to the dock.

The debris had to be removed over the weekend.

After that, the boat was squared away to be boarded by two marine surveyors.

“The only damage we suffered was cosmetic,” Lee said.

He said there was no structural damage.

“All repairs can be made where it’s sitting,” he said. “We’re very happy.”

The small repairs required will not set back any regular work on the boat. “Work has resumed on a normal schedule,” he said.