Coast Guard urges preparedness as high water season approaches

The inspected towing vessel, STEVE G, lists due to strong currents on the Ohio River near West Franklin, Indiana, January 12, 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo/Released)

NEW ORLEANS – As the high water season begins on the Mississippi and the Western Rivers, the Coast Guard urges mariners to prepare for the risks associated with high water levels and strong currents.

High water and strong river currents can quickly create a dangerous situation for a vessel and its crew. It is important to take actions that reduce the risks associated with high water. One towing vessel crew recently proved that simple preventative measures can make a major difference.

On Sunday, January 12, the crew of the inspected towing vessel STEVE G was assisting a grounded barge in the Ohio River near West Franklin, Indiana. During the evolution, the bow of the towing vessel rode up on the barge, which submerged the stern of the tug. The strong river current then caused a severe list, but the vessel’s watertight integrity prevented it from capsizing or sinking. The crew’s proactive actions to keep the watertight doors closed and to maintain the watertight envelope of the hull potentially saved their lives and saved the vessel.

“The purpose of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Prevention Program is to correct safety issues, well before a hazard exists, in order to prevent the loss of life, environmental damage, or disruption of our vital Marine Transportation System,” said Capt. Tracy Phillips, the Coast Guard Eighth District’s Chief of Prevention. “When crews are actively following a safety management system, and commercial vessels are in compliance with marine safety regulations, the risks to the vessel are drastically reduced and the crew is better prepared to respond if an emergency does occur.”

As of July 2018, towing vessels are now subject to regular Coast Guard inspections according to Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter M. These inspections ensure the vessels are meeting the regulations related to safety management, equipment, construction and operational requirements.

The National Weather Service predicts that there is an elevated threat of spring flooding for the Western Rivers of the U.S. During the fall of 2019, the upper Midwest experienced rainfall levels at 150% to 200% of normal, and the river levels are already high throughout the area. This sets the stage for the elevated risk of flooding during the upcoming spring, even with a normal level of precipitation during the winter.

The Coast Guard recommends that all mariners, both commercial and recreational, take measures to protect themselves and their vessels as we approach the high water season.

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