Barge hits bridge and spills light crude oil into Mississippi River

The towboat Nature Way Endeavor banks a barge against the western bank of the Mississippi River on Sunday as vehicles travel on the Interstate 20 bridge. A barge carrying 80,000 gallons of oil hit the railroad bridge next to the I-20 bridge, spilling light crude into the Mississippi River and closing the waterway for eight miles in each direction, the Coast Guard said. A second barge was damaged. Enlarge photo

Eli Baylis/ Vicksburg Post

The towboat Nature Way Endeavor banks a barge against the western bank of the Mississippi River on Sunday as vehicles travel on the Interstate 20 bridge. A barge carrying 80,000 gallons of oil hit the railroad bridge next to the I-20 bridge, spilling light crude into the Mississippi River and closing the waterway for eight miles in each direction, the Coast Guard said. A second barge was damaged.

A barge carrying 80,000 gallons of oil hit a railroad bridge in Vicksburg, Miss., on Sunday, spilling light crude into the Mississippi River and closing the waterway for eight miles in each direction, the Coast Guard said. A second barge was damaged.

Investigators did not know how much had spilled, but an oily sheen was reported as far as three miles downriver of Vicksburg after the 1:12 a.m. incident, said Lt. Ryan Gomez of the Coast Guard’s office in Memphis, Tenn.

Authorities were still trying to determine the source of the leak, but it appeared to be coming from one or two tanks located at the stern of the first barge, Gomez said. He said there was no indication that any oil was leaking from the second vessel, and said it was still unclear whether the second barge also hit the bridge or was damaged through a collision with the first.

“Investigators are still trying to figure out what happened,” he said.

United States Environmental Services, a response-and-remediation company, was working to contain the oil with booms before collecting it and transferring it to one of the barge’s undamaged tanks, then ultimately to a separate barge, Gomez said. He could not say how long the river would remain closed in the area. Five northbound and two southbound vessels were waiting to pass, he said.

“It’s still considered an active leak,” Gomez said. “We don’t have an estimate or accurate amount of what was released.”

Railroad traffic was allowed to continue after the bridge was found safe for trains, Petty Officer Carlos Vega said.

The barges are owned by Third Coast Towing LLC, Gomez said. According to a website listed under that name, the company is in Corpus Christi, Texas. No one answered the telephone at the company Sunday night.

Both vessels were being pushed by the tugboat Nature’s Way Endeavor. The website for Nature’s Way Marine LLC of Theodore, Ala., identifies the vessel as a 3,000-horsepower, 90-foot-long boat, making it the largest and highest-powered of the company’s five tugs. It was built in 1974 and underwent a complete rebuild in 2011, according to the company.