Coast Guard closes access to Mississippi after vessel collision
The U.S. Coast Guard closed the entrance of the Mississippi River for a second day Sunday, following the collision early Saturday morning of a containership and an offshore supply boat.
U.S. Coast Guard and Navy personnel are searching for the missing crew of the supply boat, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The vessels involved in the collision were identified by the Coast Guard as being the 534-foot containership 'Zim Mexico III,' owned by Rickmers and operated by Zim American Israeli Shipping Co., and the 178-foot supply boat 'Lee III,' one of six vessels owned by Ocean Runner Inc., based in Houston.
The collision, which occurred in fog seven miles south of Pilottown, blocked the Southwest Pass, the only channel into the Mississippi River that can be used by oceangoing vessels.
Commercial divers are inspecting the partially submerged hull of the 'Lee III.' This is the first time in more than 50 years a vessel large enough to block the Southwest Pass sank in the channel.
Approximately 40 vessels are backed up because of the blockage, Coast Guard Petty Officer Jonathan McCool said Sunday. Three are large cruise ships. Two of the cruise vessels had been scheduled to dock in New Orleans on Sunday, but were waiting in the Gulf of Mexico. A third cruise ship could not leave New Orleans.
The crew of the 'Zim Mexico III' reported damage near the vessel’s bow but no injuries to personnel on the ship.
Coast Guard officials told The Times-Picayune in New Orleans the 'Lee III' might not be raised before Wednesday.
The river closure has impacted cargo and cruise ship operations for vessels calling the port and the entire Mississippi River system, according to the Port of New Orleans. Affected cargo includes consumer goods, raw materials used in manufacturing, petroleum products, and grain exports, according to the port.
“If this closure is prolonged, the negative impact would be widespread and devastating to the United States economy,” said Gary LaGrange, executive director and chief executive officer of the Port of New Orleans.