Currents Blamed In Pittsburgh Barge Breakaway

Just before 5 a.m. on January 21, 12 barges loaded with coal being towed by the mv. Brenda L. Murray II broke free after the tow allided with bridges on the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh, Pa.

Officials temporarily closed the McKees Rocks, West End, Fort Pitt, Liberty, Smithfield and Panhandle bridges as crews inspected them for damage and the loose barges were rounded up.

Monessen, Pa.-based Murray American Transportation Inc., which owns the towboat involved in the incident, released a statement that claimed strong river currents were to blame for the allision.

The statement read: “Murray American Transportation Inc. confirms that a towboat, the mv. Brenda L. Murray II, was affected by strong river currents in the early morning hours of January 21, allowing loaded coal barges to become free, and some of those barges reportedly struck bridges in Pittsburgh. The barges have all been secured at this time. We are working with the United States Coast Guard and other state and federal regulatory agencies to investigate this matter, and to determine the cause of the barge breakaway.”

The Port Authority of Allegheny County took to Twitter to announce that the Pandhandle Bridge took a direct hit from one of the loose barges. “We’re having a contractor come out now to tell us if it’s safe to use for the rail system. Again, safety is our No. 1 concern,” the authority tweeted. All bridges have since been reopened.

The Pittsburgh Engineer District said that none of the barges had impacted the Emsworth Locks and Dam on the Ohio River. The Coast Guard has yet to comment on the cause of the incident.