ST. LOUIS — It could be weeks before the level and current of the Mississippi River subside sufficiently for crews to safely salvage a towboat that inexplicably sank with 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.
The 70-foot, 140-ton Jim Marko sank Tuesday near the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge at St. Louis after four crew members were rescued unharmed, the Coast Guard said. A pollution-control team is on standby to deal with any possible seepage of the boat's cargo.
There is a small amount of film visible on the river's surface near the wreckage but no evidence as of Wednesday that large amounts of the sunken boat's fuel has escaped, a regional Coast Guard spokesman, Lt. Timothy Marriott, told The Associated Press.
"We are actively monitoring it, and at this point it appears to be stable," Marriott said. "We have patrols continuing throughout the day and will continue to do what we can to capture anything if it does escape."
Chris Whitley, a Kansas City spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said that agency has not been asked to help but was being updated about the matter.
Marriott said it remains unclear why the towboat, which was traveling solo and not attached to barges, sank on the Illinois side of the river.
"At this point, it's still very much under investigation," he said. "We're obviously not going to really know the whole story until we can get the vessel salvaged."
That might take some time, given that such recovery efforts would have to wait until after the river's currents and levels become safer to do the job, Marriott said. Swollen by recent downpours to the north, the river at St. Louis was expected to continue rising before cresting roughly a foot below flood stage next Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
"It likely will be days if not weeks before we can even attempt (the salvage)," Marriott said.
Messages left Wednesday with the vessel's owner, Mike's Marine of Roxana, Illinois, and its operator, St. Louis-based Osage Marine Inc., were not immediately returned.
The Coast Guard closed several miles of the river just north of the sunken towboat to all traffic for about five hours Tuesday before it was reopened that night.