Sunken tugboat that shut down river finally raised

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Published: July 10,2013

Tags: accident, boat, Coast Guard, navigation, river, shipping, sunk, tugboat

MISSISSIPPI RIVER — An arduous, five-day effort to locate and surface a tugboat that rolled and sank in the Mississippi River near Venice, La., over the weekend, interrupting the flow of traffic and commerce, has finally come to an end.

Crews pulled the 47-foot-long towing vessel out of the water today. It sank Saturday. The river had been closed, either partially or entirely, since then and was finally reopened in both directions later Wednesday.

“Closing down the river was a big deal,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Sullivan, who was on site as the tugboat was pulled from the river. Venice is about 75 miles southeast of New Orleans.

The on-and-off river closures since the incident Saturday caused some ships to have to anchor and wait a chance for passage and some, including one cruise ship full of passengers bound for New Orleans, to be rerouted to Mobile, Ala.

“Any delay is a loss, but it certainly could have been worse,” Gary Lagrange, president of the Port of New Orleans, said yesterday. Day to day, Lagrange said, costs grow “exponentially.”

The river wasn’t completely reopened in both directions until midday today.

Lagrange had no estimate on how much the recent closures cost the port.

Divers secured the tug with cable to a work barge yesterday. A day later, the tug was completely raised, water was pumped from it and it was towed away.

One of the divers said high water levels and the river’s powerful current were challenging.

“You can’t see your hand in front of your face,” said Travis Lemm, a diver with Blackwater Diving based in Morgan City, La. “The current is ungodly. The pressure on you, it pulls you so hard, and you have to tie your hose off. You can’t really see what you’re doing, so you have to feel your way around.”

The Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local authorities and private companies were involved in the search and salvage effort, which included the use of sonar.

The Guard said two people were rescued from the water after the sinking. The cause of the accident remains unclear.

“We know it took on water very quickly, and it sank very quickly,” Sullivan said.

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