Lower Miss Sees Two More Incidents During High Water

High water on the Lower Mississippi River continued to challenge mariners last week, with the Carrollton gage in New Orleans, La., hovering near the 17-foot flood stage, held there thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ continued operation of the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

By late last week, the Corps had actually begun closing bays at the spillway, which diverts water from the Mississippi River, sending it toward the Gulf of Mexico by way of Lake Pontchartrain. On March 22, the Corps closed 13 bays, bringing the total bays opened to 170 and dropping the total discharge to 151,000 cubic feet per second (cfs.). The spillway topped out at 183 bays opened from March 19 to 21, with a peak output of 181,000 cfs.

The National Weather Service expected the Mississippi River in New Orleans to begin dropping over the weekend, with it dropping below 15 feet around March 31 and settling near 13 feet the first week in April.

Despite that flow stabilization last week, navigating on the Lower Mississippi River led to at least two more incidents in Southeast Louisiana. On March 17 around 9:30 p.m, the mv. Vincent J. Eymard, owned by KC Boat Company of Marrero, La., capsized near Mile 175 near Donaldsonville, La. According to reports, the Vincent J. Eymard, like the mv. Natalie Jean that sank in New Orleans March 12, drifted onto an anchor chain, capsized and sank within seconds.

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Capt. Wayne Arguin, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, addressed those two incidents in his report at the Inland Waterways Conference in New Orleans March 21.

“Really the contributor there, the key theme, was fleet boats, operating crosswise in the river in and out of the fleets, just not being able to anticipate the current and the significance of the current, maybe being underpowered,” Arguin said. “In at least one of those cases, main deck watertight integrity was not maintained.”

Aguin pointed out just how fast the two towboats sank.

“The first went down in about 12 seconds,” Arguin said. “The second fortunately had some time to get off, but it went down in about a minute.”
Another vessel in Ingram’s Darrow, La., fleet, took on the crew of the Vincent J. Eymard as well as an empty barge the Vincent J. Eymard was towing. The waterway was closed the night of March 17. By the next day, the waterway was reopened, but with a restriction for one-way traffic between Miles 175.9 and 176.9.

Then on March 19 near LaPlace, La., another towboat somehow collided with a oceangoing vessel in the process of dropping anchor. The towboat was able to push itself off the bow of the ship.

“In the third incident, Monday night, a small tug pushing a crane barge, I’m not sure why, got in front of a deep draft ship that was anchoring, got set down on top of the anchor and on the bow,” Arguin said. “Fortunately, it was able to drive around it and did not go down, but it caused a cascading set of barges rolling down the river, which is not part of the desired state of this system.”
Just a day before the March 19 incident, the Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin calling on operators of towing vessels on the Lower Mississippi River to avoid downstreaming under current river conditions, ensure all doors and windows on the first deck are closed and secured, ensure adequate freeboard aft, emphasize communication among crew members, and position crew members to be able to climb to safety “in the event of a downstreaming casualty.”