Conditions in the Mississippi River

Current conditions on the Lower Mississippi River can best be described as challenging. The seasonal changes in the lower Mississippi River from approx. mile 239 AHP (Baton Rouge) to the Southwest Pass means that the river is running very fast and high due to melting snow and rain in the Midwest.

We understand that the River reached the 17-foot Carrollton Gauge flood stage at New Orleans on Saturday, March 9th which is termed “High River”. The River may remain at that level for weeks to come.  The River’s current levels have already exceeded flood stage up to Baton Rouge.

The rising level of the River has commercial implications because as the River rises ships, and most notably tankers, may be required to have tugs alongside at the berth and mooring buoys, and also while at anchorage.  The tug requirements could be from either the Coast Guard, the terminals, or both.  This has financial implications for the Charterer because a ship may have to remain at anchor for up to two (2) weeks or more and if 1-2 tugs are required to remain alongside, the financial cost could reach an average of US$36,000 per tug, per day.  The River levels and currents could also lead to significant vessel delays.

Further, the currents on the River are very strong, reaching a strength of 6 knots or greater. Separately we have had several cases of barges breaking away and colliding with vessels at anchor. There have also been many cases of vessels dragging and losing anchors as a result of the strong currents. Once an anchor is lost, the US Coast Guard will issue a Captain of the Port Order requiring that a salvage plan be issued prior to the vessel being allowed to sail from the area.  In addition, the Captain of the Port Order will require tug assistance (likely more than one tug) for any vessel that has lost an anchor as a result of the conditions on the river.

Groundings can also occur more frequently with strong, unpredictable currents and significant mud/silt mounds built up in unexpected areas of the River.

In late February, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway to divert water from the river to Lake Ponchartrain.  The Army Corps is also considering opening other spillways, including the Morganza Spillway north of Baton Rouge.

We recommend that Charterers be aware of the situation if making port calls along the Lower Mississippi River and be prepared for delays and the potential need for tug assistance. Charterers should keep in close communication with their local agent(s) to monitor conditions and receive daily updates on the weather forecasts, draft restrictions, pilot orders and transit restrictions caused by daylight limitations and local area fog events.

Assured are encouraged to report to the Club any incident or occurrence however insignificant which may occur while loading at the Mississippi River.

With thanks to our Correspondent Lamorte Burns for this update from the US.