MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Owners of a towboat used to rescue two barges washed away by Arkansas River floodwaters earlier this year filed a complaint in federal court seeking to shield the company from liability resulting from lost product and damages.

Bruce Oakley Inc. and Johnston’s Port 33 own the towboat used midday on May 22 to round up two barges alleged to have been set “adrift in the current” by the crew of another towboat. While the two barges initially were secured by the crew aboard the Oakley-owned M/V Legacy, rising river levels uprooted trees to which they were moored on the riverbank later that night. 

The barges, which were loaded with fertilizer, “came to rest on a sandbar upriver” of Lock & Dam 16. In an attempt to keep them from floating farther downstream, according to the complaint, “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the dam gates on May 23, 2019, to lower the river stage upriver of the dam ..., but the current pulled” them “off the sandbar and toward the dam,” which they subsequently struck before sinking.

John R. Woodward III states in the complaint that LMR Freight LLC notified Oakley of its intent to recover costs it incurred as owner of the sunken barges. Other potential claims, according to the complaint, could be made by the owners of the barges — Mizuho America Leasing LLC of New York and East West Bank of Alpharetta, Ga. — and CGB Enterprises, a Louisiana-based company believed to own the cargo on board the barges. 

Oakley claims and seeks “exoneration from liability for any loss, damages or injury” that might have occurred as a result of its towboat wrangling the barges back to shore in the first instance or after they became unmoored a second time. Woodward alleges “the incident and any damages ... were caused either as a result of factors for which no one was responsible or were caused by, or were contributed to be caused by the fault and negligence” of others.

If Oakley is determined to have some liability, its lawyers are asking that it be capped at the value of the towboat M/V Legacy pursuant to maritime statutes. The value of the vessel, according to the complaint, is estimated to be $2 million.

Smoot writes for Muskogee Phoenix, a CNHI News Service publication.