Deteriorated barge pulled three towboats under, NTSB says

Chattie Sue Smith, Mary Fern and Mary-R were moored with the barge on the Illinois River

The following is a marine accident brief from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):

(WASHINGTON) — On July 5, 2019, about 0600 local time, the towing vessels Chattie Sue Smith, Mary Fern, Mary-R and an unnamed deck barge sank in the Illinois River at mile 20.7 while moored at the Jersey County Grain Company facility in Hardin, Ill. No crewmembers were aboard any of the vessels. Approximately 2,800 gallons of diesel fuel was released into the river and mostly recovered. Damage to the vessels, deck barge, and facility totaled an estimated $920,000.

Probable cause

‚ÄčThe National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the sinking of the towing vessels Chattie Sue Smith, Mary Fern and Mary-R, along with a deck barge, was the deteriorated condition of the barge and the infrequent monitoring of the vessels, which allowed the barge to flood and sink, ultimately pulling down the moored towing vessels.

Analysis excerpt

As found in this barge sinking, failure of one of the automatic submersible bilge pumps would have prevented constantly accumulating water from being removed from its compartment and resulted in the space flooding. If the barge began flooding in this manner, the barge’s freeboard would have been reduced, thereby submerging other holes that were above the waterline in the side plating and resulting in an increased rate of flooding. Once the upriver rake of the barge became submerged in the estimated 1- to 2-mph current, flooding would have occurred through the open manhole, and the current would have forced it under water. Since the towboats were secured by wires and mooring lines to the deck barge, the flooding and subsequent sinking of the deck barge pulled three of the attached towboats under the surface and nearly the fourth vessel as well.

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