High river levels hamper efforts to salvage sunken towboat

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 | 5:10 p.m. CDT
In this July 1 photo, a St. Louis Fire Department boat and a U.S. Coast Guard are seen searching for a sunken towboat in the Mississippi River near the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge in St. Louis. The Coast Guard said the 70-foot, 140-ton Jim Marko went under July 1. Four crew members were rescued.

ST. LOUIS — The Coast Guard may have to wait another month for the rain-swollen Mississippi River to subside before attempting to salvage a towboat that inexplicably sunk with 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The 70-foot, 140-ton Jim Marko went down July 1 on the Illinois side of the river near St. Louis, posing a potential environmental headache involving the diesel. But Coast Guard Lt. Timothy Marriott said that though a rainbow-colored sheen was seen above the wreckage in the days after the sinking, there's no evidence large amounts of the fuel have escaped into the river that leads south to the Gulf of Mexico.

"This is good news, very good news," Marriott told The Associated Press. "We're continuing to monitor it, going out every day to keep eyes on it."

Efforts to retrieve the vessel have been stymied by unsafe currents and levels of the river swollen by recent rains to the north. The National Weather Service said Tuesday the Mississippi at St. Louis is expected to crest this weekend 3 feet above flood stage and won't drop below that level until the middle of next week.

"We're really waiting for the river to cooperate at this point," Marriott said. "The river's going to have to come down quite a bit. We're still looking at three weeks, maybe a month out before we can salvage the vessel."

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, near the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The vessel's owner, Mike's Marine of Roxana, Illinois, and its operator, St. Louis-based Osage Marine Services Inc., have not returned telephone messages seeking comment.

The towboat sank to a depth that has not affected barge traffic.

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