Coast Guard investigates possible bridge allision

PITTSBURGH – The Coast Guard responded to and is investigating a report that two empty jumbo hopper barges broke free today from General Trade Corp.’s fleeting facility at mile marker 11 on the right descending bank of the Monongahela River in Braddock, Pa. and collided with George Rankin Jr. Memorial Highway Bridge.

Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh received the initial report of the breakaway barges at approximately 10 a.m. and dispatched an investigation team to the scene to assess damage and determine the cause of the breakaway. The Coast Guard found no pollution or injuries, and concluded that a passing tow’s wake likely disturbed the fleeted barges enough to cause the mooring lines to break. There was no evidence to corroborate the initial report that the two barges collided with the George Rankin Jr. Memorial Highway Bridge as the freed barges came to rest on the left descending bank of the river just short of the bridge piers.

At the time of the report, Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast to advise mariners of the hazard and request assistance. The towing vessel Principio rendered assistance and returned the barges to their original mooring location.

The Rankin Highway Bridge was shut down to traffic in order to allow the Allegheny County Department of Public Works to conduct a precautionary damage assessment of the bridge. Two railroad bridges downstream had also been notified and closed to train traffic to allow for recovery of the barges. All bridges have since reopened to traffic.

“While barge breakaways are unfortunate, it is good to learn that in this case no injuries occurred, and there was no damage to the Rankin Bridge or the barges,” said Cmdr. Steve Wischmann, commanding officer of MSU Pittsburgh. “I’d also like to offer my appreciation for the rapid and cooperative response to the incident.”

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