NTSB Reports On Barataria Bridge Barge Allision

The poor condition of the swing span on the Barataria Bridge, including a lack of protective fendering, a faulty limit switch and a lack of red navigation lights, were all factors in the contact of a towed barge with the swing span on November 22, 2020, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB released its report November 16. 

The contact resulted in more than $500,000 in damage to the span and its closure for six days. The bridge is the only means of road access for the community of Barataria, La. No injuries or pollution were reported, and there was no damage to either vessel involved. 

The two towing vessels were the 67-foot-long, 1,440-hp. mv. Trent Joseph, built in 1997 and operated by Coastal Towing LLC, and the 68-foot-long, 1,000-hp. mv. George C, built in 2012 and operated by Cvitanovic Towing LLC. Together they were towing two barges southbound in the Barataria Waterway, which extends from Lake Salvador through bayou country to Barataria Lake. The Trent Joseph was the lead boat, towing the two barges in a single string by a tow bridle. One of the barges carried an excavator crane, and the other carried concrete fish boxes for an artificial reef project. The George C, with a crew of four, acted as the tail boat, connected by a tail line. The overall length of the tow was 624 feet. 

The tow was proceeding at a speed of about 1.4 mph. Because of a strong following current, the captain of the Trent Joseph ordered the tail boat George C to “clutch reverse,” meaning both engines were to be in gear in astern propulsion at a low-revolutions-per-minute setting. The crew did not report any mechanical, steering or navigational equipment problems with either the Trent Joseph or the George C. 

The swing bridge was owned and operated by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and was continuously staffed by a bridge tender who operated from a bridge house on the north side of the road on the east bank. The bridge was typically kept closed to allow the passage of road traffic. The bridge tender could operate controls that engaged electric motors to open the swing span in a clockwise direction (thus closing in a counterclockwise direction) on a center pier near the middle of the waterway to a north-northwesterly (328°)/south-southeasterly (148°) orientation in the opened position. The bridge tender told investigators that she was not informed of any technical or mechanical issues with the Barataria Bridge by the bridge tender she relieved when she began her shift at 1800, nor was she aware of any other issues with the Barataria Bridge the evening of the accident.

At about 2104, the captain of the Trent Joseph called the bridge tender by radio to request it be opened. The bridge tender then told the captain of the Trent Joseph she would begin opening the bridge. She logged the bridge as being open at 2110, and she stated that, about the same time, saw the Trent Joseph rounding a bend about 0.5 miles north of the bridge. The permanent navigable channel through the bridge was 77 feet wide and ran between a long fender wall in the center of the waterway (center fender) and a shorter fender wall on the east bank (east fender). When in the fully open position, the bridge is protected by the center fender timber wall.

Red Lights Removed

Each of the fenders normally had red lighting marking the ends and middle. According to the bridge tender, at the time of the accident, the red lights on the east fender had been removed to be repaired. No temporary lighting was fitted to replace the lights that had been removed. All of the lights except for the lighting on the east fender (three red lights) were working on the night of the accident. The captain of the Trent Joseph contacted the bridge tender and was told about the red lights; the tender suggested he use his spotlight to help navigate through the bridge.

The investigation revealed that an automatic limit switch, which kept the bridge from over-rotating, had had repair attempts made to it. The captain saw that the bridge was over-rotated, and also saw that a corner of the bridge span extended outside the protective fendering. 

At 2122, at a speed over ground about 2 mph., the starboard forward side (port aft quarter) of the trailing barge, JMSS Mobile, struck the northeast-facing corner of the swing span and dislodged it from its mounting and supports. The captain of the George C stated that he saw the barge strike the swing span, but it did not hit the fender. According to the bridge tender, the Trent Joseph was completely clear of the bridge at the time the aft barge struck the swing span.

After the aft barge hit the bridge, the captain of the Trent Joseph stopped his vessel and took it out of gear. From the back of the tow, the George C’s captain saw that he had to turn the vessel to port and move the barge ahead and over to clear the bridge and prevent the George C from going underneath the displaced bridge. When the Trent Joseph’s captain was informed that the George C had shoved the aft barge to keep clear of the span, he put the vessel back in gear and finished pulling the tow through.

There was no reported damage to the Trent Joseph, George C, or the forward barge, KS 4513, or any deck equipment and cargo. The aft barge, JMSS Mobile, sustained paint scrapes and gouges about 6 feet above the waterline on the aft port corner with no indentations or fractures found. Repairs were not required. 

The full report is available at