Search for tugboat captain called off

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2008


Staff Reporter

NORCO – Coast Guard rescuers called off their search Thursday for a missing towboat captain whose vessel capsized in the Mississippi River early Wednesday morning.

The Gate-Way, a 52-foot towing vessel, capsized in the river while it was positioning other boats near the Shell-Motiva oil refinery in Norco around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Coast Guard officials said another worker from the boat, who was on one of the coal barges being moved in the river, was rescued from the water by the crew of the towboat Secretariat, a vessel that came to the aid of the Gate-Way.

Rufus Harris, the attorney for Specialty Marine Services of Lutcher, owners of the Gate-Way vessel, said representatives for his client will continue to search for the captain and the boat, which also has yet to be located as of press time.

Harris said at the time of the accident, the Gate-Way was integrating two coal barges into a flotilla to be moved by the Secretariat. He said the cause of the accident remains undetermined, but specified that the river current is very strong, and water level in the Mississippi is high at this time.

Harris said the rescued crewman, whose name was not released, was not seriously hurt in the accident. After being pulled from the river, Coast Guard officials said the crewman was taken to a relative’s home in the area.

A dispatch operator for Upper St. Rose Fleeting Co. and the crew of the Secretariat made the initial call to Coast Guard District Eight, headquartered in New Orleans.

Air Station New Orleans dispatched an HH-65C helicopter to aid in the search, while New Orleans Marine Safety and Security Team members scoured the river in two 25-foot vessels along with a 41-foot Coast Guard boat.

Harris said divers hired by Specialty Marine will continue their efforts to find the sunken vessel, as well as the captain. Despite calling off their search, Coast Guard officials continued to issue Urgent Marine Information Broadcasts for boaters in the area to be on the lookout for the captain.

St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s deputies, and the Port of South Louisiana, also participated in the search.