Once sunken towboat ready to move to repair docks

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A Mississippi River towboat that partially sank slightly more than two weeks ago began a 350-mile trip Wednesday to a St. Louis-area repair facility, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said.

"She's well on her way," Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said shortly after 4 p.m. as another towboat, the Penny Eckstein, began towing the once sunken Stephen L. Colby to a dry dock facility just north of St. Louis at Wood River, Ill. There it will be raised from the water for permanent repair and overhaul before it resumes towing barges on the Mississippi River.

The trip from LeClaire is expected to take about a week and a half.

The boat struck something in the river Nov. 25, took on water and partially sank against the riverbank at LeClaire.

Investigators from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating the cause of the accident.

The Coast Guard earlier Wednesday inspected the vessel to ensure its seaworthiness and reviewed the transit plan. Two additional small holes in the boat's hull discovered Tuesday were patched to make the vessel watertight, Fogarty said. A larger 30-by-12-inch hole on the bottom of the boat had been patched earlier.

When it sank, the 154-foot-long towboat was carrying 99,000 gallons of diesel fuel and oil, and a significant amount spilled into the river, requiring an extensive cleanup effort. That included recovering more than 88,000 gallons of oily water from the boat and nearly 40,000 gallons of oily water from the river.

"The majority of the cleanup has been accomplished, but the cleanup of this operation will go forward for the next few months," Fogarty said. "Unfortunately with the winter weather we were unable to accomplish all the rehabilitation the Coast Guard seeks to ensure in these situations."

Below freezing temperatures moved into the area last Friday.

Monitoring of the spill area will continue for several months to ensure the LeClaire riverfront is returned to normal, Fogarty said.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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