Scott Satchfield / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- With the Mississippi swelling to historic levels, the already powerful river's waters are churning and swirling with increased violent force.

It's a dangerous situation for the many massive tankers moving up and down stream. To maintain control, Coast Guard officials say ships must travel faster than the current.

'If you're going the same speed of the river, you're not having any control over your ship because you don't have any water going over your rudder,' said Lt. Cmdr. Marcie Kohn.

Another challenge is simply sitting still. One of several new restrictions in place is vessels with a draft of more than 30 feet must have a pilot on board while at anchor.

A runaway ship could cause major problems.

'They're going to drag the anchors at some point. Some of them will even pop the anchor chains. If that was to occur with this historic level of river, the ship would be at the top of the levee and it would take very little for that ship to punch a hole in the levee,' said Michael Rooney, president of the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association.

And as the river keeps rising, some companies are forced to make tough decisions.

'There are dock facilities that are closing due to the river conditions, and it's just a safety issue,' said Mitch Smith, operations director of the Port of South Louisiana.

With numerous docks closing in the areas above the Bonnet Carre Spillway, some ships will have to reroute, or reschedule the off- or on-loading of cargo.

For this very busy river corridor, it's one of several ways the rising water could cause financial losses.

'There are construction projects that are just put on hold due to the river conditions. That's an economic impact in itself, because it delays construction and it costs money to mobilize equipment and you're putting construction companies on standby,' Smith said.

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