Four seamen were plucked out of the Mississippi River on Tuesday night after their towboat sank near the Port of St. Louis under mysterious circumstances.
The Jim Marko, a 70-foot-long,140-ton towboat, was sailing near the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge when its four-man crew noticed that the vessel was taking on water and rapidly sinking.
According to local media reports, the crew aboard Jim Marko managed to abandon ship shortly before it sank. A crew aboard the Miranda Paige rescued the four men and transferred them to a towboat, the John F. Walker, which carried them to shore.
Watch standers alerted the U.S. Coast Guard and local, state, and federal agencies that the towboat went down between Lock and Dam 27 and the Eads Bridge with 10,000 gallons of diesel oil in its fuel tanks. The St. Louis Fire Department sent several marine units to assist the Coast Guard’s pollution response team from its Upper Mississippi sector in containing the spill. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the St. Louis Air Support Unit were also on scene.
Local radio station KMOX reports that some of the Jim Marko’s fuel has already leaked. A light sheen on the Mississippi’s water was visible on Tuesday, but authorities have not determined how much of the tug’s remaining fuel has leaked.
Although local, state, and federal authorities state that their immediate concern is raising the towboat to prevent further fuel spills, conditions at the Port of St. Louis are preventing salvage operations. Per the Coast Guard, high water levels and swift currents in the port have forced postponement of salvage operations until river conditions are safe enough.
Meanwhile, authorities have launched an investigation into why the towboat sank.
“It’s a definite safety at stake until we have a reason or an understanding as to why that initial vessel, the Jim Marko, went down,” said St. Louis Fire Department Capt. Garon Mosby. “We don’t need any other vessels encountering what they encountered.”
The sinking of the Jim Marko, which is owned by Mike’s Marine and operated by Osage Marine, Inc., caused the Coast Guard to close the Mississippi River to navigation between the McKinley Bridge and the Stan Musial Bridge on Tuesday night. The river was reopened nine hours later.
The 38-year-old towboat was built by the F.B. Walker & Sons shipyard as the Katie for the Modern Boats company. It was later renamed Jim Marko.
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