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Marine Log

April 2, 2008

American Club issues Mississippi level alert

Members of the American P&I Club have received an urgent alert from the club's managers about dangerously rising water levels in the Mississippi River.

Shipowners Claims Bureau Inc. in New York says it has been informed that on April 8 it is projected that the river will crest at 16.5 ft the highest level since the very active 2005 casualty year. The river has higher than normal high stages about every three to four years due to El Nino and La Nina cycles.

If at any time the level is about 15 ft at New Orleans, the Mississippi River Crisis Action Plan is triggered.

More importantly, says SCB, any time the river is above 14 ft, more collisions, groundings and breakaways typically begin to occur, especially with panamax bulk carriers or oil tankers loaded to more than 40 ft draft.

SCB states: "Charterers and shippers often think that higher river levels mean they should load vessels deeper and maximize profits, whereas the reverse is true. At high river, the current scours away and collapses the dredged navigation channel edges, making it more difficult for deeply-laden vessels to maneuver. Equally, when moored, such vessels need all their lines out and constant tug attendance."

"Many upriver midstream facilities such as at Mile 170-177 AHP are especially dangerous and prone to deep draft vessels dragging their anchors and breaking away," warns SCB. "Likewise, Mississippi River anchorages above AMA/St. Rose up to Baton Rouge are susceptible to vessels loaded to more than 40 ft draft dragging anchor as long as the river stage is above 14 ft."

As a final comment, the club's managers say it is highly likely that, even now, some vessel somewhere has just received revised voyage instructions from the charterer/cargo shipper directing the master to load to a draft of 45 ft or to 47 ft instead of the normal 42 ft for Mississippi River port discharge. Instead, they should be reducing the draft to 40 ft.

"Owners and charterers need to talk about this situation and who will bear the extra expenses of tugs and pilots and lightering and, in the event of a grounding, consequent refloating expenses," says the SCB, which issued its alert on the basis of information from club correspondent Phelps Dunbar LLP, New Orleans.

National Weather Service Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center

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