Bridge collision, spill stall 300+ barges

VICKSBURG, Miss. - A pair of tank barges struck a railroad bridge here on Sunday, leading to a back up of more than 300 barges on the Mississippi River while the Coast Guard and other officials worked to cleanup the crude oil that began leaking from one of the barges. The cleanup could keep the river here closed through Thursday, the Coast Guard said.

Personnel from Sector Lower Mississippi River, Marine Safety Detachment Vicksburg and the Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team from Mobile, Ala., are on scene, according to the Coast Guard, and continue to assess the size of the spill and oversee cleanup operation. The tank levels are being constantly monitored for further leakage. The leaking tank barge contained approximately 80,000 gals. of light crude oil. The second barge was also carrying crude, but was not leaking at last report.

Corpus Christi, Texas-based Third Coast Towing owns both barges, and they were being pushed by the towboat Natures Way Endeavor, operated by Nature's Way Marine LLC, Theodore, Ala. The Endeavor is a 3,000-hp, 90'x32' towboat built in 1974 and rebuilt in 2011.

The river remains closed to all traffic from mile marker 425 to mile marker 441. Vessels will be allowed to transit the area as soon as it is environmentally and operationally safe to do so, the Coast Guard said.

The unified command consists of representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, local authorities and law enforcement and the owner of the towing vessel, Nature's Way Marine, which will be responsible for the lightering and salvage operation planning.