Barge traffic resumes on Mississippi after oil spill

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Barge traffic was being allowed on a limited basis for the first time this morning along a 16-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that had been shut since Sunday after an oil barge crash caused a tank carrying 80,000 gallons of crude to rupture.

As of this morning, about 7,650 gallons of “oil-water mixture” had been recovered with skimming vessels and crews were still on the scene, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield told Trade Only Today.

The accident occurred when two oil barges being pushed by a tugboat slammed into a railroad bridge in Vicksburg, Miss., causing one to leak crude oil. Nobody was injured.

Limited commercial traffic was being granted northbound at night and southbound during the day in the 16-mile distance between mile marker 425 and mile marker 441 near Vicksburg, Schofield said.

“It’s on a conditional basis,” Schofield told Trade Only Today. “If anything operational during this recovery happens, we can shut down the whole traffic system.”

This morning, there were 19 vessels awaiting passage on the northbound side with 280 barges and 31 on the southbound side with 521 barges, Schofield said.

“It’s still not open to recreational traffic,” Schofield said. “We’re trying to let some of the commercial stuff get through. The restrictions are based on safety needs of the responders.”

Oil was reported three miles from the crash site on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

The damaged barge was to be inspected and prepared for transit to a maritime facility nearby Vicksburg after oil removal operations were complete, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

“Despite the response crew efforts to contain the seeping oil, an unspecified amount has broken through the containment boom due to the difficulties of working on a dynamic and powerful river current,” Capt. William Drelling, federal on-scene commander for the Vicksburg oil spill, said in a statement. “Skimmers are on scene to help minimize the environmental threat of any additional potential releases.”

— Reagan Haynes