April 8 (Reuters) – The U.S. Coast Guard said it reopened the Mississippi River to some shipping traffic on Friday following a midweek barge accident near Thebes, Illinois, that had closed the major shipping artery early on Wednesday.
Vessels with a smaller-than-normal number of barges in tow will be allowed to pass through a safety zone between river mile markers 40 and 44 during daylight hours, only via one-way traffic, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
Southbound tows hauling 15 barges and northbound tows hauling 20 barges were allowed to pass on Friday, down from 30 or more normally, shipping sources said.
A queue of about 25 northbound barge tows and 15 to 20 southbound tows had assembled at the closure since Wednesday, although some were too large to pass until the Coast Guard’s restrictions are lifted, they said.
The towboat Michael G. Morris struck the Thebes Railroad Bridge on Wednesday morning and its 30 barges broke free. One barge ultimately sank at the bridge, another sank about two miles downriver, and the rest were retrieved and secured.
Salvage operations to retrieve the sunken barges are scheduled to begin on Saturday and the cause of the accident remains under investigation, the Coast Guard said.
The two-day closure of the key grain shipping waterway had only a minor impact on cash grain prices as near-term freight costs edged higher on some portions of the river system.
Cash premiums for near-term corn barges, including insurance and freight, shipped to export terminals at the U.S. Gulf Coast were up about 2 cents per bushel from Wednesday, while spot soybean premiums were up about 5 cents a bushel, traders said. (Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)