Tugboat trouble brings traffic on Monongahela River to standstill
A tugboat and 12 empty barges it was towing got hung up between the banks of the Monongahela Tuesday, creating an obstruction that brought river traffic to a standstill near the Historic Pump House in Munhall for nearly three hours.
The problem began when the tug, known as the Carrie Mays, encountered blustery winds shortly before 3:30 p.m.
“The empty barges sit quite a few feet above the water,” said Michael J. Monahan, president of Campbell Transportation Co. based in Houston, Washington County, which owns the Carrie Mays. “When you have the winds pick up, it acts like a sailboat.”
Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services chief Alvin Henderson said the vessel got into a situation that made it impossible to maneuver.
“As they were traversing the river, they actually went sideways,” Henderson said. “The barges in the front were on the descending bank and then the tug itself was close to the ascending bank, but not hung up on it.”
Emergency crews cleared the obstruction at approximately 6:15 p.m. using a rescue tugboat, the Brenda Sue, to separate six of the barges and take them downstream.
The Carrie Mays took the remaining six barges.
No injuries were reported.
Henderson said a Coast Guard advisory alerted river traffic that the channel was blocked.
He was unsure if any boats were in a queue area waiting to pass.
Henderson said a sheen visible on the water was river sediment churned up by the tugboat's motors, and that none of the boats were leaking fuel.
“It will basically correct itself through the emulsification of the water flow going downstream,” he said. “It turns into a point where it pulverizes and it's diluted with the water.
“Obviously, we still have the alert out to the public drinking water companies that are having intakes downstream from here. They're monitoring to make sure that there's no adverse effect on the public drinking water.”
The wedged barges caught the attention of many passersby in the Waterfront.
Darwyn Kasparek of North Huntingdon Township and Ralph Zemarel of Forest Hills were just sitting down by the river to eat some hamburgers.
“We got here shortly after it happened,” Kasparek said. “We're presuming, because of the way it looked, that he got too close to hitting the bank and he started sliding. He just about had the whole river blocked.”
“It's not a good day to be captain,” Zemarel said.
West Mifflin resident Mary Cardamone was going shopping.
“This is crazy,” she said. “I've never seen anything like it. To drive past and see all of these barges blocking the river, you can't help but stop.”
Gerrie Salo of West Mifflin said she saw television news accounts of the barge obstruction and decided to see it in person with her German shepherd Tassy.
“We always come here to walk,” she said.
Henderson said he has seen barges break free because they had not been tied properly, but he never before had witnessed a situation such as Tuesday's..
Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Trib Total Media staff writer Michael Hasch contributed to this report.