Thousands of tiny white plastic pellets from a container aboard a cargo ship being unloaded at at the Napoleon Avenue Wharf in New Orleans ended up littering the east bank batture near the Chalmettte Battlefield in St. Bernard Parish this week, after the ship broke free from its moorings during a Sunday afternoon thunderstorm and the container fell into the river, according to officials with the Port of New Orleans.
As container ship CGA CGN Bianca moved away from the wharf during the storm, “two cranes sustained structural damage,” said a statement issued by the port. “Additionally, a container containing plastic resin pellets, a cargo classified as a nonhazardous substance, fell from the vessel into the river.”
It was actually one of four containers that fell from the ship, said port spokeswoman Renee Aragon. The other three were empty and quickly retrieved, she said. The submerged container containing the plastic pellets was raised from the river two days later, when it was determined to be safe to do so, she said.
“As the damaged container was being retrieved, sacks containing pellets broke out of the container and dispersed in the water. It was determined that the pellets were irretrievable,” the statement said.
The river’s navigation channel is about 200 feet deep in the area near the wharf.
The incident is under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard, state Department of Environmental Quality and the National Transportation Safety Board, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman.
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New Orleans artist Michael Pajon said he spotted the pellets on the river batture while visiting the park earlier this week.
“They looked the size of hailstones,” he said, and littered a long stretch of the water side of the Mississippi River levee near the battlefield.
The pellets — called nurdles by manufacturers — are a raw material used to make plastic objects, usually by melting them in molds.
A plastics manufacturer with a growing presence in Louisiana has been fined and sued in Texas for polluting waterways with bits of plastic.
The container ship CGA CGN Bianca had traveled from China and South Korea to deliver goods at Houston and Mobile before arriving at the Ports America Napoleon Avenue container terminal on Aug. 2, according to the company’s online shipping schedule. Where the pellets originated from and where they were to be delivered is not known.
The ship has since left New Orleans for stops in Tampa and Miami.
A decision on who will clean up the pellets or who will be determined to be the “responsible party” to be billed for the cleanup costs has not yet been made, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Sydney Phoenix.
It is also unclear whether pellets also ended up on the west bank of the river or other locations downstream from the battlefield, officials said.