January 21, 2005

Fatal barge explosion closes Chicago canal

An explosion onboard the EMC423 tank barge on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Wednesday evening has resulted in the presumed death of a crewmember and the closure of the waterway, according to a Coast Guard news release and local media reports.

The tank barge that exploded was carrying approximately 588 thousand gallons of Clarified Slurry Oil. This cargo is a byproduct of the oil refining process and is used to make fuel oils. It was loaded onto the barge at the Exxon Mobile Plant in Joliet, IL, and was destined for the Ameropan Oil Corporation facility in Cicero, IL.

The tank barge involved in the explosion is owned and operated by the Egan Marine Corporation. Egan Marine operates a small fleet of barges and towboats in Lemont, IL

The Coast Guard Captain of the Port has closed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship canal between South Harlem Avenue Bridge and the South Pulaski Road Bridge to all vessel traffic.

The canal will be reopened as soon as it has been determined that it is safe for vessel traffic and that opening the waterway will not adversely affect the ongoing clean up and salvage operation.

Heritage Environmental Corporation has been contracted by Egan Marine to clean up the spill. The Coast Guard is working closely with Heritage Environmental, Egan Marine, and state and local agencies to mitigate any environmental impacts and ensure that the spill is contained and cleaned up efficiently.

Marine Safety Office Chicago has initiated an investigation to determine the cause of this accident. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) is assisting the Coast Guard with this investigation and is providing significant technical and investigative expertise.

The Chicago Tribune's report on the incident says that a tugboat, the Lisa E., managed to stay afloat and was moored Thursday to a breakwall near the submerged barge.

The newspaper notes that the 26-foot-deep channel was built in the 1890s to send Chicago's sewage away from Lake Michigan and to provide a shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

The newspaper says that the Coast Guard is pressuring Egan to quickly hire a salvage crew to pull the barge out of the canal so commercial ships can resume navigation. About 15 barges a day pass through the heavily industrialized canal. Though the canal is closed,says the Chicago Tribune, commercial ships still can reach the lake through the Calumet-Sag Channel.

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