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Cleanup continues after Mississippi River barge oil spill

January 28, 2013|By Michael Muskal

At least 21 vessels were backed up along the Mississippi River as authorities worked on Monday to clean up an oil spill from a barge that hit a railroad bridge near Vicksburg, Miss.

Officials have placed more than 2,500 feet of boom to contain the spill, Petty Officer Jonathan Lally told the Los Angeles Times by telephone. There was no estimate when the spill will be completely cleaned up, he said.

At most, the spill could reach 80,000 gallons of crude oil from one of the damaged barges in Sunday’s accident, Lally said. It was unclear how much oil had leaked out or how much had been recovered.

River traffic has been blocked in the area around Vicksburg with at least 11 northbound vessels and 10 southbound vessels -- including tugboats and barges – delayed, he said.

The sheen from the spill was visible on the water for several miles, but Lally said that was not necessarily an indication of the degree of damage.

"A teaspoon of oil can create a sheen that is spread by a variety of factors like water currents. It can look really long, but it doesn’t give a huge amount of information," he said.

Officials were investigating the cause of the accident, which took place about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Lally said.

A tugboat was pulling or pushing two barges southbound on the river when one of the barges struck a railroad bridge in what is technically an allision: a moving vessel striking a stationary object.

The tugboat, the Nature's Way Endeavor, is owned by Nature's Way Marine LLC of Theodore, Ala. It is identified as a 3,000-horsepower, 90-foot-long boat. The barges are owned by a Texas firm.

Both barges were believed to be carrying oil, Lally said. Both vessels were damaged, but only one appeared to be leaking into the water, he said. One barge was damaged from hitting the bridge, but it was unclear what had damaged the second barge, either a hit on the bridge or possibly a collision with the first barge.

The bridge was reopened to railroad traffic on Sunday.

Last February, a portion of the lower Mississippi River was closed for a day after a collision between two barges spilled about 10,000 gallons of oil. In 2008, the river was closed for six days after a collision between a barge and a tanker let almost 300,000 gallons of heavy crude escape.

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