POSTED JUNE, 2013
Story by Chief Warrant Officer Craig Coburn and Lt. Kristen Potter National Strike Force Atlantic Strike Team June 12, 2013
MARSEILLES, Ill. — Coast Guard members mobilized to Marseilles following the torrential rains and flooding in April. Seven 200-ft. barges containing steel coils, ore, concrete and chemicals broke free from a tugboat transiting in the Illinois River and struck the Marseilles Dam.
Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago and Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan responded to the scene and called upon the technical expertise of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Strike Team. AST members were immediately dispatched to help with the response because of their salvage experience and expertise. The AST partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers to provide oversight of the removal operation of sunken barges pinned against the Marseille Dam by flood waters.
The flooded and sunken barges impeded six of the eight locks which severely limited the ability of the Army Corps of Engineers to control the flow of water in this section of the Illinois River and increased the already high risk of severe flooding in the area after weeks of rain.
“This was an excellent opportunity to team with Marine Safety Unit Chicago and Sector Lake Michigan as well as the Army Corp of Engineers to keep responders safe as we tackled significant salvage challenges in the river with extremely high volumes of water flowing through the dam,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Reinhard, executive officer of the AST.
This was a unique case for the AST, who are trained as salvage and safety experts, but most often deploy in support of hazardous materials releases and oil spills. The incident had several challenges, including dive operations in fast moving water, complete removal and salvage operations in a time sensitive manner and the use of highly complex salvage methods. AST members oversaw the technical aspects and ensured safety of all salvage operations on scene.
Coast Guard AST members have been on scene since April, and will continue through June, or until operations are complete. The AST’s presence ensured safety protocols were being followed and their key input was made into the development of a salvage plan for the barges. Six of the seven barges have already been successfully removed and all but two of the locks have been repaired or found to be functional.
One sunken barge, loaded with over 600 steel plates of various sizes shifted as it sank, and presented an especially difficult and time consuming removal process. Overcoming the river current, limited visibility and the displacement of the plates from their original loading configuration, divers had to work carefully to prevent personal injury. Due to hazardous work conditions, the Coast Guard insisted on a rescue boat on scene, ready to respond within a moment’s notice to transport injured members to shore then to an ambulance if necessary.
Another barge sank with approximately 2,000 tons of concrete, which had to be jack hammered loose before being picked up with heavy equipment. This operation had its own difficulties because the heavy equipment operator could not see the concrete in the barge through the water. After the barges were emptied of their cargo, they were lifted in place just above the surface of the water, enabling dewatering, plugging and patching of the hull as necessary. Once the barges were determined safe for transit, they were towed to a location for final repairs.
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