Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Damn Barges Again
Another towboat-barge rig hit the Queen Isabella Causeway today. Fortunately the safety features such as the dolphins and safety pylons worked, and the bridge itself was not damaged. More facts should become known in the next few days - and yes it was quite the topic of town gossip tonight. My understanding from watching a crummy video was that a tugboat was pushing three large, loaded inland barges, headed north, and then lost its way and two barges broke loose. I did see one barge and the load seemed to be some kind of bulk like cotton or fertilizer covered in a huge tarp.
I stopped by a few channels and the docks in Port Isabel for a look, and immediately noticed that the tide was ripping and racing at a very good clip, maybe 5-6 knots. If you recall, extreme tides were also mentioned in conjunction with the 2001 barge incident in which eight people died. However, today’s collision occurred in broad daylight and not at night (somewhere around 4:27).
The towboat, as tugs of this kind are called, seemed to be fairly large and was not a small underpowered vessel as I could tell (underpowered towboats lack maneuverability with large loads). It seemed stuck under the bridge along with the remaining barge. Around 7:00 p.m. my wife was finally able to come home, with the Coast Guard and DOT still doing inspections and investigations.
I will say I feel bad for the towboat captain and his relief pilot. This kind of thing is never expected and they must feel horrible – at least no vehicles were plunging into the Laguna Madre as in 2001. They’ve got to pee in a bottle and have to answer the same questions 500 times, will probably lose their jobs, and possibly face the courts. The last towboat captain who hit the bridge has a nervous breakdown and is basically a vegetable.
That said, the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) in lower Laguna Madre probably needs to remain closed to towboat traffic until something is done. Whoever said that old “S” curve from through the swing bridge and Port Isabel was good and safe was possibly the most stupid person in the entire world. The towboats need a clear shot north and south and that’s just a fact. Let the towboats take the outside passage to Mansfield or Corpus but stop playing with such high risks until we get a new extension to the ICW to the Brownsville Ship Channel.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt that we could tell, although the barge-man was probably rattled pretty badly. I have been in the marine consulting business for over seven years and I’ve never seen anything like this – I mean up in Freeport, they have as many as 50 to 75 towboats PER DAY pass under their causeway and never an accident. I hope that this time, people will wake up and do the right thing.