The family of Matthew Brigalia have filed a lawsuit in Orleans Parish (New Orleans) against Elite Towing Inc. and American River Transportation Co. LLC (ARTCO) in the wake of a barge collision on the Mississippi River on Jan. 26. Brigalia served aboard the RC Creppel, which sank after being struck by another vessel, the Cooperative Spirit, shortly after 5:30 a.m.

That morning, Coast Guard Sector New Orleans received a report that the 69'x30'x10' towboat RC Creppel and the 186'x54'x10' linehaul towing vessel Cooperative Spirit collided near New Orleans. Four members of the RC Creppel went missing. One crewmember was later rescued. Brigalia was among the three whose bodies have yet to be found.

Coast Guard crews searched over 835 nautical miles for approximately 67 hours but were unable to find the three missing mariners. Agency officials then suspended the search. The accident occurred when the Cooperative Spirit was transiting upbound on the river when it entered a barge fleeting area and allided with barges before colliding with the RC Creppel and sinking it. Built in 1975, Cooperative Spirit is owned by ARTCO, a wholly owned subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). RC Creppel, built in 2012, is operated by Elite Towing.

The RC Creppel was pushing two barges carrying sulfuric acid, one of which was damaged in the incident and reportedly released an unknown amount of vapor into the air, when the accident occurred. The source of the release was secured the same day as the accident.

The Brigalia family is represented by Tony Clayton and Michael Fruge of the Louisiana law firm of Clayton, Fruge & Ward and by Kurt Arnold, Caj Boatright, and Roland Christensen from the Houston firm of Arnold & Itkin. Arnold & Itkin successfully represented plaintiffs in maritime disasters, including Deepwater Horizon and the El Faro.

“This should never have happened. The defendants are going to have to answer some tough questions because this disaster was preventable,” Kirk Arnold said in a prepared statement. “By filing this lawsuit, the family will have the right to be part of the investigation, to discover the truth, to hold the responsible parties accountable, and to help prevent another disaster from taking someone else's life in the future.”

WorkBoat reached out to both ARTCO and Elite Towing for comment. An ADM spokesperson said that as a general rule the company does not comment on pending litigation. Elite could not be reached for comment.

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.