After two days of being closed to river traffic, the Coast Guard finally reopened a 40-mile stretch of the lower Mississippi River, but with restrictions. The closure was due to an accident that caused approximately 31,500 gallons of light crude oil to spill into the inland waterway on Saturday afternoon. According to the Coast Guard, the accident involved two towboats, the Hannah C. Settoon and the Lindsay Ann Erickson. It is unclear exactly how the accident happened. The Coast Guard did, however, say that wildlife was spared by the oil spill and no one was hurt on either towboat.
The oil spill, which took place about 50 miles west of New Orleans near Vacherie, affected at least 30 vessels that routinely passed through the major waterway. Traffic flow was temporarily stopped to prevent possible contamination and spreading of the oil down the river.
Port representative Matt Gresham says that although all concerned vessels have been secured, each of them must be thoroughly cleaned to ensure that there is no oil residue on their hulls. St. Charles Parish, which gets partial supply of their drinking water from the river, released a statement that their water supply remains safe. However, based on a 2008 study, the river closing is estimated to cost the national economy $290 million-a-day with higher daily figures after the first few days.
The remaining 25 miles of the Mississippi River downriver from the collision site was eventually opened on Monday afternoon. Only two vessels were allowed by the Coast Guard to pass through – two cruise ships that were headed for the Gulf of Mexico. The river cruise ship American Queen was unable to stop at Vacherie, but was finally given the go signal to proceed upriver on Sunday afternoon.
Gresham said that cruise ships are given precedence as they carried hundreds of passengers. He also mentioned that there are far fewer cruise ships than cargo ships.
The Coast Guard is currently investigating the events that took place in the collision and has since released sparse information about the details of the accident.
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