Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. By LCDR Phillip Ison, chief, Prevention Department, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley.
On January 26, 2006, while southbound on the Ohio River near Louisville, Ky., a towboat pushing three loaded asphalt barges during a period of high water attempted to enter the approach to the McAlpine lockway. It was a clear day with excellent visibility, but the pilot did not line up his approach correctly. The tow allided with the vane dike at the head of Portland Canal and the force of the blow snapped the barges’ connecting wires.
The tow broke apart, with each barge drifting downstream individually. Tugs attempted to recover all the barges before they drifted down to the dam, but two barges escaped this recovery effort and went over the dam. The first over was recovered. The second struck a railroad bridge sideways. Within a few minutes, the current forced the upstream edge of the barge down and flipped the barge onto its port side.
There it sat, 300 feet long, 54 feet wide, with 900,000 gallons of asphalt, heating oil, and diesel aboard, bottom pressed firmly against two bridge supports, its port side on the bottom of the river.
Over the next four months, the incident command worked as a cooperative group to address all aspects of the incident, from oil recovery to salvage, from site safety to cargo recovery. Conflicting concerns, needs, and recommendations were invariably resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.
Cargo offload was finally complete in late May 2006. The asphalt required re-heating before pumping could proceed, which involved cutting into the barge at each cargo tank and inserting heating coils. This was river-level dependent, and operations were suspended numerous times due to rising water levels. Once ready for removal, the barge was salvaged over a two-day period, using an A-frame crane to lift the barge while it was pulled away from the railroad bridge.
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