A 51-foot-long U.S. Army Corps of Engineers towboat has sat at the bottom of the Mississippi River somewhere near the U.S. 190 Bridge for the past 10 days after it capsized while helping an agency dredge that hit the bridge last week, authorities said Friday.
Three crew members on the sunken towboat, the M/V Sanderford, went into the water but were pulled free of the river by another vessel, a U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman said.
No serious injuries were reported, Corps officials said.
The Jadwin, a Corps of Engineers dredge based out of the Vicksburg District in Mississippi, had been headed downstream past a sharp bend in the river and near the bluffs of Southern University for work in Morgan City. It hit a pier under the "Old Bridge" on April 21, Corps officials said.
The dredge is one of three "dustpan dredges" operated by the Corps along the Mississippi to keep the river wide and deep enough for commerce.
A state Department of Transportation and Development inspector checked the crash site and found no damage to the supporting bridge pier, a highway agency spokesman said.
Crashes with bridge piers and other supporting structures along the river — often known as "allisions" in U.S. Coast Guard parlance — are not uncommon, and most bridges have protective barriers to deflect direct blows.
Jessica Dulaney, spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers based in Vicksburg, said her agency is working with a marine salvage company to pull the Sanderford from the river.
"Because it is located in deep water, the vessel will not present any navigational hazards while salvage plans are being finalized," she added on Friday.
Federal navigation charts for the area show depths in the main channel of the river near the bridge, which sees heavy ship and barge traffic, range from around 40 feet deep to more than 100 feet deep.
Shortly after the Jadwin hit the bridge, the Sanderford, which was described as a support, or "tender," vessel for the dredge, tied up to it to help it get free, Coast Guard officials said.
But, for reasons that are unclear, the towboat capsized and sank some time before 10:36 a.m. April 21, when the Coast Guard says it was notified about the incident. The Coast Guard in New Orleans did not issue a formal statement publicizing the crash, as it does with some other waterborne incidents in the region.
The crash and capsizing happened in high-water conditions along the river.
The Coast Guard's Marine Safety Unit, based in Baton Rouge, is investigating the crash, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Sydney Phoenix said.
Corps of Engineers officials said they were helping the Coast Guard collect information for that probe and also doing their "own comprehensive safety review."
"Until these efforts are complete, I am unable to provide more information about the cause of the allision," Dulaney added.
The Sanderford towboat can hold up to 120 gallons of lube oil and 120 gallons of waste oil, in addition to any fuel for its engines, according to Corps of Engineers specifications.
Dulaney said the towboat had "safety caps and valves to prevent diesel fuel leakage into the river."
The towboat was valued at $1.8 million in 2006, Dulaney said, one year after it was commissioned.
The Jadwin's 50 crew members live on the dredge while they work for months out of the year. The dredge uses jets of water and a large suction head to vacuum silt and other debris from the river bottom, the Corps says. The dredge was hit and damaged in January by a tow in St. Mary Parish, according to the St.MaryNow.com news website.