What's being described as a "giant pile of crashed ships and barges" clogs New Orleans' Industrial Canal one day after Hurricane Gustav, covering the channel's entire width south of the Interstate 10 bridge -- and raising serious questions about the U.S. Coast Guard's vessel mooring requirements.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating whether the barges damaged a Port of New Orleans floodwall along the west side of the Industrial Canal. Fortunately, the damaged structure protects only a parking lot, with a federal flood-protection wall that runs several hundred feet inland undamaged by the storm.

Some of the ships and barges that came unmoored in the storm landed atop a natural gas pipeline buried beneath the canal. The pipeline services the entire United States.

There were also problems with loose barges during Hurricane Katrina.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter reportedly grilled U.S. Coast Guard officials yesterday about why ships and barges weren't required to evacuate the shipping channel in advance of the hurricane. It turns out that part of the problem was that the Corps began renovating the Industrial Canal lock on Aug. 11, which meant vessels couldn't enter the river.

The Times-Picayune identifies two of the vessels that sank and others that crashed ashore during Gustav as the responsibility of Southern Scrap Recycling. But President Joel Dupre defended his company, saying it followed the Coast Guard's Obsolete Vessel Afloat Mooring Plan:

...Dupre said governing bodies, such as the Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, would have to reassess the best way to secure vessels during such a storm.

"We need to have some kind of coil system on these anchors, because it just broke the anchor chains," Dupre said. "I mean, who's heard of that?"

The chains in use were believed to be sufficient for tropical storm conditions, he said.

In other Gustav-related shipping incidents reported by the Coast Guard, a tugboat sank in the Mississippi River near Harahan, La. and leaked fuel; eight barges (seven of them empty and one carrying non-hazardous cargo) broke loose just upriver from Kenner, La.; and the ferry Iberville broke from its moorings, hit another vessel, and sank into the Mississippi 20 miles down river from Baton Rouge.