Coffeeville Lock Closed After Recreational Vessel Sinks In Lock Chamber

A 41-foot recreational vessel traveling northbound on the Tombigbee River in Alabama entered Coffeeville Lock, located at Mile 116.6 on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway (BWT), on January 8 and sank during its lockage.

“The vessel is sitting upwards in the center of the lock,” said Anthony Perkins, project manager for the BWT and Alabama-Coosa River projects, during a mid-week call with waterway stakeholders. “We’re probably running around 7 feet or less clearance over the top of it, so there is a lot of concern for passing any traffic over it.”

The Mobile Engineer District announced the emergency closure of the lock in a navigation bulletin issued shortly after the incident.

So far, the vessel has shown no sign of leaking fuel or any other pollutants into the lock chamber, said Chad Brumelow with the waterway. Brumelow said damage likely occurred to the vessel as it traveled northbound on the waterway, long before it reached the lock.

“The pilot did inform the lock supervisor after the incident that he thought he hit something about 40 miles south, but he did no damage assessment, and he didn’t report any damage or issue,” Brumelow said. “He didn’t realize he was taking on water until he was standing in it.”

The Mobile District has sent its floating plant, the mv. Lawson, and floating crane, Choctawhatchee, down to Coffeeville Lock to perform the vessel lift. The Corps has hired a salvage team from Vicksburg, Miss.-based Big River Shipbuilders to conduct the diving and rigging efforts. Perkins said that team would be en route January 13, with salvage efforts beginning the following day.

“I don’t have a definite timeframe, as far as how long it will take, but hopefully just a day or two, including Friday,” Perkins said.

“We’re hoping for sometime over the weekend to be able to reopen,” Brumelow added.

At press time January 13, the queue at the lock included six or eight southbound tows and just a handful of northbound tows.

Construction on Coffeeville Lock began in 1956. The lock opened to navigation in 1960, with construction complete by 1965. It’s one of six locks on the waterway, which provides a total lift of 255 feet.

Wynne Fuller, president of the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association, which represents businesses tied to the BWT and operators at work on the waterway, praised the Corps for its quick action and willingness to work closely with industry.

“The Mobile District and its team in Tuscaloosa has been very responsive to this unique challenge,” Fuller said. “This is the first time in almost 50 years that I recall a vessel completely sunk in a lock chamber in the district. The Corps has done an exceptional job of collaborating with the maritime industry on the issue, keeping all informed on the status of their effort. They clearly appreciate the impact that this situation is having on shippers and operators.”