The runaway cargo ship that crashed into other ships and an oil terminal on the Mississippi River on Monday dragged a tug boat tethered to it down the river until both smashed into an oil tanker docked at a terminal in St. James Parish. The crew of the much-smaller tug — hitched to the out-of-control, coal-loaded 751-foot MV Privocean — struggled to push on the Privocean’s bow to avoid the impending crash, a federal lawsuit by the tug boat’s owner claims.
The 98-foot tug boat Texas ended up being smashed between the Privocean and the MT Bravo, a tanker, at the Ergon-St. James terminal.
Two other tug boats that were holding the Bravo in place at the Ergon-St. James terminal also were damaged in the massive crash.
The U.S. Coast Guard reported no serious injuries in the incident, although the lawsuit makes injury claims.
Crescent Towing and Salvage Co. Inc., of New Orleans, claims in its suit that four tug boats in all were damaged when the Privocean broke free and hit the Ergon terminal and the Bravo, an 816-foot ship unloading crude at the terminal Monday.
In a statement Friday, Crescent Towing commended its crews for displaying “extreme heroism as they courageously saved human lives and prevented additional loss of property on the Mississippi River.”
Though not noted in Crescent Towing’s suit or statement, the Coast Guard has said the Texas took on water when the much larger Privocean hit it. The crew ran the tug boat ashore so it would not sink, the Coast Guard has said.
The lawsuit filed Friday by Crescent Towing is one of two brought against the Privocean in U.S. District Court in New Orleans in the past two days. The other was filed by Ergon.
Both seek to hold the Privocean, a Maltese-flagged ship owned and managed by Greek shipping companies, in Louisiana until the plaintiffs can recoup their damages.
The suits also reveal new details beyond the U.S. Coast Guard’s official account of what happened after the Privocean broke loose of its moorings 4 p.m. Monday at a coal terminal on the river’s east bank near Convent.
Ergon’s lawsuit recounts similar details shared by Crescent and the Coast Guard about the Privocean’s breaking free from the Convent terminal and going down river and over to the west bank terminal to hit the Bravo, the oil tanker.
“Over a period of approximately 45 minutes, (Privocean) pushed the M/T Bravo into plaintiff’s facility, ripping through plaintiff’s ship berth and into its barge berth,” the Ergon suit alleges.
Ergon’s dock and other equipment were destroyed or damaged, the suit alleges, “such that the facility will be closed for repairs for a substantial amount of time.”
The suit claims the Bravo also spilled crude into the river as the Bravo broke free of the terminal following an emergency shutdown. Ergon is also suing to recoup cleanup expenses.
U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey in New Orleans ordered the Privocean seized Thursday in connection with the Ergon lawsuit. Zainey issued an arrest warrant Thursday for the Privocean and “her engines, tackle, apparel, boilers, equipment and appurtenances.”
On Friday, Ergon asked Zainey to appoint Admiral Security Services, of Maryland, as custodian of the Privocean in place of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally said the Privocean remained moored Friday at the Grandview Anchorage near Gramercy about 14 miles downriver from the scene of the crashes.
That’s exactly where Ergon wants the Privocean to remain throughout the duration of its suit until the company recoups its costs. Zainey had not ruled on those requests from Ergon as of Friday evening.
The Coast Guard and, according to Crescent, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the incident.
The crashes shut a section of the river for several hours Monday and later led to restrictions on shipping traffic in a 3-mile stretch of the Mississippi near Convent not lifted completely until Thursday.
Crescent Towing claims it had sent two tow boats to the Privocean on April 3 when it was docked at the Raven Energy-Convent Marine Terminal.
The Crescent suit accuses the Privocean of negligence for failing to handle and maintain its lines properly, failing to have a third tug boat at the Convent terminal and failing to respond to requests from the M/V Ned Ferry to release its line. The Ned Ferry had also been holding the Privocean at the Convent terminal with the Texas.
The Coast Guard has not said three other tug boats were damaged by the Privocean on Monday in addition to the Texas, which was in a dry-dock Friday awaiting repairs.
Lally, the Coast Guard spokesman, said Friday the Coast Guard has ended its response to the crashes. But he said investigators are still looking at why the Privocean broke free.
Coast Guard officials have said they had no indications, at this time, that criminal or civil violations occurred.
The Privocean had been secured at the Convent terminal with marine-grade ropes and had two tugs alongside, the Coast Guard has said, but the ship’s anchors were not in use.
The Coast Guard has said 420 gallons of crude spilled in the river Monday and another 126 gallons on the Bravo’s deck.
Ergon says it has placed a maritime lien against the Privocean and asked the court to order an auction so Ergon can recover its costs.
Crescent Towing asked to join in that suit Friday, has placed a similar lien against the Privocean and also asked Zainey to seize the vessel.
Crescent is also suing on behalf of its tug boat crews for their physical and emotional injuries.
New Orleans-based attorneys for the Privocean and Ergon did not return messages for comment late Friday.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.