M/V Marge McFarlin during lockage - Photo by Ingram Barge Company

In the early morning hours of January 19, 2012, the motor vessel Marge McFarlin and her 12-barge tow struck or “allided” with the Liberty Bridge located at mile 1.1 on the Monongahela River, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  As a result, two barges from the tow broke free and were swept downriver.  One barge sank near the Fort Pitt Bridge while the other struck Consolidation Coal’s barge mooring facility at mile 0.1 on the Ohio River causing a Consol barge to break away as well.  The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Monongahela River from mile 0.0 to 1.2, and the Ohio River from mile 0.0 to 0.2 until salvage operations could be completed.

The 4300-horse power M/V Marge McFarlin is owned and operated by Ingram Barge Company of Nashville, Tennessee.  According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the cause of the incident is under investigation.

When a barge breaks away from a towboat that is “underway”, it is usually because the tow hits some drift (floating debris) or other obstruction, such as a bridge pier (this would be an “allision”).  An allision occurs when a moving object strikes a stationary object.  Depending on the force/severity of the allision, the wires holding the barges together as a unit can break and allow some or all of the barges to break away and be swept downriver.  If the barges are not corralled by a motor vessel, they will careen downriver striking bridges, pleasure boat, boat docks, dams, landings and possibly cause a chain reaction as the break-away barges hit other barges further down river.

Although there was one chain-reaction where the Consolidation Coal barge did break away, but fortunately, no one was injured.  However, several bridges in the city of Pittsburgh were closed to assure the structural integrity was not compromised.  The cause of the incident is under review by a maritime accident investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Today, our inland rivers carry goods and commodities such as oil/fuel, coal, fly-ash, grain, sand, etc., which are all vital to our nation’s economic well-being.  The Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers are part of that “water highway.”  As long as towboats are pushing barges on the rivers, there will be mishaps and barges will, from time to time, break away during tug boat accidents.

However, most, if not all, barge breakaways are preventable.  Unfortunately, safety standards and regulations and navigation rules are not always adhered to, which makes the risk of allision and barge break away much greater.

If you have been injured or your pleasure craft or dock damaged in a barge accident or towboat accident, contact our experienced barge and towboat injury lawyers at The Moschetta Law Firm, P.C. to learn your rights.