Inland Waterways – Tug and Barge Accidents – Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway Accidents

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is a 234-mile system that joins busy navigation routes in the Southeastern United States. A petition to Congress in 1810 revealed the desire of Knox County, Tennessee citizens to have a waterway that could ease trade by shortening the distance to the Gulf of Mexico by over 800 miles. Vessels that now traverse this waterway, extending from the Tennessee River to the north to the Tombigbee River to the south, have access to seaports in New Orleans, Gulfport, Mobile, Pascagoula, and Panama City. Inland ports in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Kentucky are also accessible.

The Tenn-Tom, as it’s often called, opened for commercial traffic on January 10, 1985. The towboat Eddie Waxler was the first to traverse it while carrying 2.7 million gallons of petroleum products. A system of locks and dams connects the 14 rivers linked to by the waterway. There is also a 29-mile channel that connects two watersheds. The Divide Cut took ten years to build and was one of the largest earth-moving projects in history. It required more material to be moved than the Suez Canal. Construction cost close to $2 billion and took 12 years.

In total, there are ten locks, providing a total lift of 341 feet. Each one measures 110 by 600 feet. The 300-foot wide waterway connects the region with a 16,000 mile inland waterway system. Barges carrying as much freight as 480 tractor-trailer trucks can, therefore, support commercial trade.

Accidents on the Tennessee Tombigbee

July 2014 – A barge with steel coils sank at a Hickman, Arkansas, facility while employees were working to unload them. They had unloaded the sixth of 42 coils, 40 of each weighing 70,000-pounds, when a suspected cargo shift caused the vessel to tip over and sink. The cargo had been loaded at a facility in Columbus, Mississippi. A deck hand was killed, and one was still presumed dead at the time of the report.

February 2012 – The towboat Crimson White was transporting a barge that went aground near Luka, Mississippi. Five barges in total were being pushed at the time. The one involved in the grounding sustained a breach to the hull.

January 2012 – A cargo ship struck a bridge over Kentucky Lake, causing the structure to collapse. No motor vehicles were involved on the U.S. 68 and KY 80 bridge. The 312-foot M/V Delta Mariner struck the bridge while traversing the river and parts of the structure collapsed across its bow. Operated by Foss Maritime, the ship was used to transport parts of Boeing rockets from Decatur, Alabama, to the Gulf of Mexico via the Tennessee Tombigbee waterway. There were no injuries in the accident.

September 2011 – A trawler meeting with a tug and barges capsized on sank. The incident occurred north of Pickensville, Alabama, while the vessel was navigating an “S” curve. Workers didn’t know why the Moonstruck capsized but suspected it could have hit bottom, causing stability to be lost. There were no injuries or hull damage and, although a total loss regarding insurance, the owner had plans to restore the vessel again. Suspected causes include turbulent flow around and behind the barges and push boats.

Navigation Tips

Navigation information is provided on the official website of the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway includes scheduled lock closures, water levels, river stage forecasts, streamflow conditions (from the U.S. Coast Guard), and navigation notices. Bridge clearance information is also provided. Vessel operators, therefore, know how much clearance they have available, and at what navigation mile each bridge is located. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District site provides even more navigation details for vessel operators.

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