Coast Guard investigating barge breakaway, oil spill near St. Louis
FILE PHOTO By John Bailey
A photograph of a partially sunk and aground barges south of the Port of St. Louis. Of the 114 barges that broke free 11 sank. Many still pose a threat to navigation along the Mississippi River. By Belo Content KMOV
(KMOV.com) – The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the cause of an accident that dumped 300 gallons of oil into the Mississippi River near St. Louis on Friday.
Officials said three investigative teams are leading the effort to figure out why 14 barges broke loose from their moorings. One team will be looking at the accident scene, a second will focus on surrounding facilities, and a third will examine the oil that was spilled.
“My understanding is that the stretch of river near St. Louis is very treacherous,” said James Mundl, an attorney who specializes in river-related issues. “There are many bridges that they (barges) have to navigate in addition to fleets that are along the sides and the terminals along the river’s edge.”
The Coast Guard also said investigators will ask a series of questions to determine if the pilot or his employers were negligent, and if the case should be referred to federal prosecutors.
“Was the individual so unreasonably negligent that a reasonable person would be expected to better perform or was someone who was not properly trained operating the boat?” said Lt. Colin Fogarty.
Coast Guard officials say it is unlikely that charges will be filed in connection with the spill. In the last four years, authorities say only four pilots have lost a license to operate.
“Most of these cases involve finding out who is at fault and paying for the damage, and I suppose that is a sufficient deterrent to make sure these boat owners and freight operators focus," Mundl said.