Ohio River near Pittsburgh reopens to maritime traffic after sunken barge is found

The U.S. Coast Guard reopened the Ohio River in Pittsburgh to maritime traffic on Tuesday, nearly four days after 26 barges broke loose and floated away during weekend flooding.

“The river is open. The Ohio River is open,” Lt. Eyobe Mills told The Associated Press.

The Coast Guard had barred vessels from a stretch of river north of the city after dozens of barges got loose from their moorings late Friday, striking a bridge and smashing a pair of marinas. One of the barges sank and was located by sonar Tuesday, allowing the Coast Guard to restore navigation.

“We're just advising vessels to steer clear of the area. They can transit, they just need to be cautious of it," Mills said.

The barge operator, Campbell Transportation Company Inc., began work to salvage the other barges. Five of seven barges pinned against the Emsworth Locks and Dam were removed Tuesday, according to the company. Crews still have to remove two barges from that dam and another barge that was stuck upstream.

“We will continue to implement our recovery plan for the remaining affected vessels, at all times taking into consideration the safety of the recovery workers, the public and the barges,” said Gary Statler, the company’s senior vice president for river operations.

The Coast Guard is investigating how the barges got loose. All but three of the barges were loaded with coal, fertilizer and other dry cargo. Statler said the barges broke loose “under high water conditions on the rivers, resulting in strong currents due to flooding in the area.”

Water levels on the Ohio rose very rapidly last week and then fell just as rapidly, said Matt Brown, chief of the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services. Barge owners are well aware of the risk of high water and must constantly adjust ropes holding their vessels in place, he said Tuesday.

“Most of the mariners are very proactive,” Brown said. “It’s not very often this happens, but we know that’s when the biggest threat level is. That’s the time they’ve really got to watch, hour by hour, because you’ve got to make adjustments.”

No injuries were reported.

An inspection of the Sewickley Bridge revealed no significant damage, and the bridge was reopened to traffic on Saturday,

Campbell, of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, owns and manages more than 1,100 barges and moves about 60 million tons of dry and liquid cargo each year, according to its website.

The barge mishap took place more than two weeks after Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after it was hit by a wayward cargo ship, killing six construction workers who plunged to their deaths.