Mississippi River reopened after barge fire

Published 12:49 am Sunday, February 4, 2007

Traffic has resumed on the Mississippi River after an accident in which a barge caught fire and spilled oil after striking a Vicksburg railroad bridge, the U.S. Coast Guard said Saturday.

Lt. Leon McClain, public affairs officer with the Coast Guard’s Sector Lower Mississippi River, said traffic began to move through the area Friday night. He said there are some restrictions on movement of traffic on the river in the Vicksburg area — restrictions that had already been in place for conditions of high water and fast current.

“Traffic in that particular area is bound by the restrictions that were already in effect before the bridge collision and subsequent breakaway actually occurred. Those restrictions relate tow sizes, horsepower and speed … parameters such as that. It’s kind of standard operating procedure that we go through during high water and low water conditions,” McClain said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Generally traffic must move at 3 mph, have a power capacity of 240-horsepower per tow and traffic without those power levels must notify the Coast Guard and either reduce the size of the load or add power.

Barges in a tow are held together by cables lashed capstan to capstan.

Thursday night, a barge hit the Mississippi River railroad bridge and burst into flames, spilling some crude oil and shutting the river to traffic.

There were no reports of injuries.

The fire was put out Friday. McClain said the remaining oil was transferred Friday to empty tank barges. He said salvage operations would begin on the damaged barge but he was not sure when.

Robbie Wilbur, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said Saturday that a MDEQ cleanup crew would be back at the site on Monday to clean up some oil that had made it to shore.

The river was closed Thursday shortly after the barge, which was carrying crude oil, broke away from three others after hitting the railroad bridge in Vicksburg. The barge drifted for about 2-1/2 hours before it was corralled and pushed against the riverbank about 12 miles downstream, the Coast Guard said.

The barge was one of four being pushed south by a vessel owned by Mandeville, La.-based Florida Marine Transportation. Company spokesman Brian O’Daniels said in a statement Friday that the fire ignited when some of barge’s cargo of crude oil sprayed onto the top of the vessel on impact and was ignited by a spark.

The barge was coming from Hartford, Ill., and traveling to New Orleans, O’Daniels said.