Seasoned river captain calls Sunshine Bridge crash inexcusable
DONALDSONVILLE- A seasoned river captain with 45 years of experience navigating the mighty Mississippi River said the crash between a crane and the Sunshine Bridge last week that has led to headaches for drivers was totally inexcusable.
Captain David Whitehurst said a number of safeguards are in place that should have prevented the collision and he believes the captain and the Coast Guard share the blame. According to Whitehurst, the captain should have radioed his clearance to the Coast Guard before reaching the bridge. He also said the Coast Guard has a vessel tracking system between Baton Rouge and St. James Parish that is supposed to be monitoring what's being shipped up and down river.
"I blame the guy operating the boat because he should have known the clearance," Captain Whitehurst said. "I blame the Coast Guard as much. They are operating the vessel tracking system."
Whitehurst said when he learned that Marquette Transportation was the company involved in the crash with the Sunshine Bridge he wasn't surprised. A few years ago, Whitehurst said he was piloting a Marquette Transportation vessel that had problems. He claims he told his supervisors about it, but when they did nothing he requested to get off the boat. And he did.
"The incident at the Grosse Tete bridge, I was on that boat three to four days before it hit the bridge," Whitehurst said. "I called and talked to personnel about handling characteristics and told them they needed to take the boat and put it in a shipyard."
Whitehurst said when Marquette didn't do anything following his concerns he got off the ill-fated boat, and learned that the same vessel was involved in a collision with the Grosse Tete bridge days later, rendering the bridge useless for months.
Knowing that Marquette was involved in the Sunshine Bridge incident shows a pattern of problems according to Whitehurst.
"Not long ago, they hit Mardi Gras World in New Orleans," Whitehurst said.
Whitehurst said he's speaking up because he believes the public knows little about the industry. He'd like to see changes so inconveniences from the collisions don't continue.
"Not thinking.... Not thinking," Whitehurst said. "Basically, that's what it is. I'm not saying no one cared, but no one was thinking."
The Coast Guard keeps a database of incidents involving shipping companies. There are just under 200 involving the company Marquette Transportation over the past five years. Meanwhile, Captain Whitehurst said he recalls at least half a dozen complaints he personally filed with supervisors while working for the company.
We reached out to the Coast Guard and Marquette Transportation about this story but have not heard back.