NTSB: Poor Decisions Led to Marseilles Dam Allision

Seven barges rest against the Marseilles, Ill., Dam after breaking free from a tow due to high water on the Illinois River, April 18, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
Seven barges rest against the Marseilles, Ill., Dam after breaking free from a tow due to high water on the Illinois River, April 18, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has issued a Marine Accident Brief into the April 2013 aliision of the Dale A. Heller tow with Illinois’ Marseilles Dam, which resulted in a costly repair of the dam and likely added to the flooding damage to property in the area.

On April 18, 2013, about 1740 local time, the uninspected towing vessel Dale A. Heller, which was operated by Ingram Barge Company, was downbound on the Illinois River pushing a 14-barge tow and attempting to enter the Marseilles Canal, adjacent to the Marseilles Dam, when it encountered a strong cross current following a period of heavy rain in the area.

Despite the assistance of three additional towing vessels, the Dale A. Heller was unable to get the tow past the dam and into the safety of the canal. As a result, several barges broke away, struck and damaged the dam’s gates, and then sank. In addition, the accident likely exacerbated rain-related flooding in the nearby city of Marseilles, Illinois.

No one was injured in the allision; however, the damage to the dam totaled an estimated $50 million and almost $4 million for the sunken barge. The incident also added to flooding damage of homes, businesses, and other property in the area.

In its report, the NSTB has determined that the probable cause of the allision was the decision by all involved parties to proceed with the passage of the tow during a period of record-high water and significant risk. Contributing to the accident, the NTSB adds, was the failure of the Marseilles Dam lockmaster and the Dale A. Heller captain to communicate effectively about the actual positioning of the dam’s gates before and during the transit.

The NTSB did not make any recommendations.

The full NTSB Marine Accident Brief can be found HERE.