A construction barge and a tank barge, towed by separate vessels, collided in the Mississippi River early Friday in St. John the Baptist Parish near Edgard, closing a portion of the river to traffic for most of the day and spilling about 10,000 gallons of Louisiana sweet crude oil into the water, the Coast Guard said. No injuries were reported, said Coast Guard sector commander and federal on-scene coordinator Capt. Pete Gautier. The cause of the collision remained under investigation.
Officials in St. Charles and St. John parishes closed drinking-water intake valves in the Mississippi River for much of the day but reopened them Friday afternoon. Gautier said officials were notified Friday at 1:58 a.m. that a construction barge being towed by the tug boat Alydar and an oil tanker barge being towed by the vessel Clarence W. Settoon had collided near mile marker 139, about 50 miles upriver from New Orleans. The tank barge suffered a gash in its portside hull about 18 feet by 5 feet wide and began dumping Louisiana sweet crude oil into the Mississippi River. “We don’t have a precise, exact amount of oil that’s spilled,” Gautier said. “We are estimating the amount of oil spilled in the water at somewhere less than 10,000 gallons. These estimates are based on the amount of product known to be in the tank before the incident. The exact amount of oil spilled will be determined over the next few weeks as we offload and get a better idea of the amount of oil that still remains on the barge.” The impacted cargo tank reportedly was holding 3,535 barrels, or 148,470 gallons, of crude oil, officials said.
Gautier said officials quickly moved the damaged barge into shallower waters close to the west bank to get the gash above the waterline. Oil spill response crews brought in booms to contain the spill, and a five-mile stretch of the river was closed to maritime traffic. Meanwhile, a light silver sheen of small to medium patches of oil impacting a two-mile stretch slowly moved down river. By late afternoon, Gautier said, the sheen had passed within a few miles of the Hale Boggs Bridge in Luling in St. Charles Parish. The most immediate concern, Gautier said, was to the water supplies in both St. John and St. Charles parishes, which closed off their water intake systems as a precaution. Officials in both parishes said there was an adequate supply of water in storage to meet the demands of the public and no oil was reported to have gotten into either parish’s water system. Gautier said the Coast Guard will likely allow the oil to disperse naturally.
“This is very light sweet crude,” Gautier said. “I think we can expect about 30 percent of the oil that has been spilled to evaporate within a few hours. And the river is running at high stage right now, at about 5 miles per hour. That’s going to create a lot of natural dispersion of the oil.
“We’ll see pocket of very light sheen and the sheen is very thin. Unless this oil presses up against something, a natural collection area, it’s really not anything we can recover.” Gautier said the weather system expected to move through the area late Friday and Saturday would help with the dispersing of the oil, but may hinder cleanup and recovery activities. He added that there has been no reported impact to any wildlife. “Any spill that occurs is a bad event and we respond aggressively to these things,” Gautier said. The river reopened late Friday to one-way traffic between mile markers 140 and 120. Southbound vessels will be allowed through until 6 a.m. on Saturday, at which time northbound vessels will be allowed to travel.