Mississippi River remains closed Monday after weekend oil spill

The U.S. Coast Guard says a 65-mile stretch of the Mississippi River is closed between Baton Rouge and New Orleans until further notice while crews clean up oil from a barge that struck a towboat.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough said on Monday there’s still no estimate for how long the river will remain closed.

“It will remain closed until further notice to allow for safe cleanup and recovery operations,” he said just before 10 a.m. on Monday. “Cleanup and recovery operations continue. The cause of the spill remains under investigation.”

The collision happened Saturday afternoon near Vacherie.

In St. Charles Parish, officials say public drinking water intakes on the river are closed as a precaution. “The water supply in St. Charles Parish remains safe,” parish officials said in a news release Sunday afternoon.

In St. James Parish, officials said the Vacherie, Lutcher and Gramercy intake valves were protected by a boom within hours after the incident. Water plant operators were monitoring the intakes valves and did not close the intakes, officials said.

Colclough said officials don’t know how much oil spilled, but only a sheen of oil is reported on the river.

Shortly after the spill, the National Response Center reported that oil was spilling out of the barge, Colclough said.

The barge, No. E2MS303, was one of two loaded with light crude being pushed by the Hannah C. Settoon. Colclough said it reportedly rear-ended the towboat Lindsay Ann Erickson, which was pushing grain barges and was moving out of the shipping lane and into a fleeting area.

He said part of the investigation into the spill will be to see who is at fault for the accident. The responsible party could be held financially liable for the damage to the ships and river, Colclough said.

Colclough said nobody was injured and all barges remained secured.

Colclough said the Coast Guard, state Department of Environmental Quality and ES&H, an environmental cleanup company, are at the scene of the spill, working to clean it up.

He said they are deploying booms to keep the oil from spreading and using flyovers to see where the oil is heading.

He said the rest of the oil on the damaged barge had been pumped into another barge by early Sunday.

He did not know if the Lindsay Ann Erickson was damaged.

An online Coast Guard database shows that the 84.5-foot-long Hannah C. Settoon was built in 2010 and is owned by Settoon Towing LLC of Pierre Part. The Lindsay Ann Erickson, built in 1982, is 168 feet long and owned by General Electric Capital Corp. of Irving, Texas.

As of about 6 p.m. Sunday, about 26 deep-draft vessels, including barges and bulk carriers in excess of 300-feet long, were sitting in a queue, waiting to traverse the closed portion of the river. Ten of those were waiting to go upriver and 16 waiting to go downriver.

He said some have dropped anchor, while others are just idling like a car stuck in traffic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.