The incident

On 13 January 2018, at 0630 local time, 27 dry cargo barges broke free from the Jacks Run barge fleeting area at mile 4 on the right descending bank of the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The barges drifted uncontrolled downriver and, beginning at 0712, struck the dams at the US Army Corps of Engineers Emsworth Locks and Dams complex, located at mile 6.2.

Two Corps of Engineers workboats moored at the foot of the dam were also struck and driven into one of the dam’s concrete piers, causing significant damage to both vessels.

Nine barges and the Army workboats were declared constructive total losses in the accident. Total damage exceeded $12.5 million.

 

Findings

  1. The breakaway of the barges at Jacks Run fleeting area occurred when the force of the river current acting on the extensive ice buildup at the front of the barge flotilla exceeded the capacity of the fleeting area’s mooring cell fittings and the barge mooring wires.
  2. Poor maintenance of the mooring cells and shoaling in the fleeting area prevented the towing vessel crews from establishing a suitable mooring arrangement for the barge fleet, which resulted in a failure of the moorings during highwater and ice conditions.
  3. Neither the owner nor the operator of the Jacks Run fleeting area was adequately maintaining the facility and its moorings.
  4. Had the Pittsburgh area had a regulated navigation area with condition-based mooring requirements similar to the Mississippi River and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway regulated navigation areas, it is likely that the poor condition of the Jacks Run mooring cells would have been discovered and addressed.

 

Probable cause

  • The NTSB determines that the probable cause of the barge breakaway at the Jacks Run fleeting area and the barges’ contact with the Emsworth Locks and Dams was the failure of the fleeting area owner and the operator to maintain the area’s mooring cells and prevent shoaling, which resulted in inadequate mooring arrangements during highwater and ice conditions.
  • Contributing to the accident was the Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard’s lack of resources and authority to effectively inspect fleeting areas and ensure that they are maintained.

 

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