High afternoon winds pushed a Campbell Transportation Co. towboat that was pushing 12 empty barges to the river bank near the Pump House along the Monongahela River in Munhall, producing a lengthy oil sheen on the water and blocking the navigation channel.
Allegheny County Emergency Services was notified that there was an oil sheen on the water and barges blocking the navigation channel at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Chief Alvin Henderson.
The towboat, named Carrie Mays, is a 106.7 foot long, 28 foot wide, 1,800 horsepower vessel built in 1951.
Early reports speculated that the boat had run aground and was leaking diesel fuel but officials said the sheen was caused when river bottom sediment was churned up by the boat's two large wheels after it was blown off course by high afternoon winds. The winds sent the towboat and barges to the shallow water where winds and the weight of the barges lodged the towboat against the riverbank.
The National Weather Service reported afternoon winds above 20 mph.
Michael J. Monahan, president of Campbell, based in North Strabane, Washington County, said the towboat never went aground.
"There is no fuel spill, no damage, no harm to any of the people working on the equipment," he said, adding that the tow boat typically has 10 to 12 barges. "Everything is OK."
Campbell dispatched another tow boat to pull the barges back into the river channel and allow the towboat to free itself from the shallow river near the riverbank. That operation was completed by 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
When loaded with 1,500 tons of coal, a barge drafts 11 feet in the water, with only a foot or two above the surface. But empty, a barge drafts only a few feet in the water, leaving 10 feet above the water's surface, turning the barges into sailboats, Mr. Monahan said.
"If we knew there would be that much wind we wouldn't have used a small tow boat," he said. "It didn't go aground. The wind was holding it against the bank."
Eleven of the barges usually carry coal and one holds hazardous materials.