File photo of a Tidewater grain barge. Photo courtesy Tidewater

File photo of a Tidewater grain barge. Photo courtesy Tidewater

An alert tugboat crew helped in averting a potentially disastrous situation late Friday night when they hauled in a 250-foot, unlit and unmanned grain barge which may have been intentionally let lose on the Columbia River.

The U.S. Coast Guard says that at about 10 p.m. on Friday, watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River in Warrenton, Oregon received a call from personnel at the Tidewater Barge facility reporting that one of their loaded grain barges was missing from the Hayden Island staging area between Portland and Vancouver, Washington.

Luckily, crewmembers of the Lori B, a passing tug owned by Bernert Barge Lines, came upon the 42-foot wide and 252-foot long barge floating near the navigation channel and towed it to back to the staging area.

Upon inspection of the barge’s mooring lines, the Tidewater Barge employee who made the initial report indicated that the mooring cable for the barge was not cut but the ratchets used to hold it in place appeared to have been intentionally loosened.

“Setting adrift a barge on the Columbia River is extraordinarily dangerous, risking significant harm to people, property and the maritime environment,” said Capt. Bruce Jones, commander of Sector Columbia River.

Intentionally causing damage to a vessel or its cargo is a crime, punishable by a fine and imprisonment for up to 20 years, the Coast Guard says.

The incident is currently under investigation by the USCG.

Anyone with more information about the circumstances behind this incident are urged to contact the Sector Columbia River Command Center at 503-861-6211.

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