Two crew members were killed, 2,000 barrels of crude were emitted and Bouchard Barge 255 was scrapped after the US marine accident
Classification society ABS is enhancing its survey programme and co-operation with the US Coast Guard (USCG) following recommendations in a report into a fatal barge fire offshore Texas.
ABS, USCG and the barge owner, Bouchard Transportation, were all criticised by US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in a report into the explosion and fire on Bouchard Barge 255 that killed two crew members, caused 2,000 barrels of crude oil pollution and US$5M in damage.
An ABS spokesperson told this publication, as a follow-up to the NTSB report, that it “will work with the USCG in a further effort to improve safety in the maritime industry”.
“ABS has already taken steps to enhance its survey programme and collaborate more closely with the USCG,” the ABS spokesperson said. This was in response to NTSB’s recommendations to both class and regulator to establish joint policies and procedures to share information, including all results and findings from audits, surveys, examinations, inspections and other applicable activities related to vessel safety.
The ABS spokesman said the classification society had noted this recommendation and “that a reciprocal recommendation was provided to the USCG”. However, ABS questioned the NTSB’s findings from the investigation.
“ABS has reviewed the NTSB report and takes exception to a number of the factual findings contained therein,” said the ABS spokesperson. “Particularly those findings pertaining to the cause and origin of the explosion and fire and the effectiveness of the ABS surveys,” he added.
Bouchard Transportation also disagreed with some of the findings detailed in the NTSB report. It said safety was the top priority in its daily operations. “Bouchard continues to support the efforts of the USCG and ABS in enforcing safe operations throughout the maritime industry,” the barge owner said in a statement.
“Safety remains Bouchard’s top priority and it will continue to work towards ensuring the safety of their crew and the environment, as well as the prevention of future incidents from occurring. We will never forget the two crew members whose lives were lost.”
Bouchard thanked NTSB for its thorough investigation of the incident. However it said in the statement “Bouchard Transportation does not agree with all of the findings detailed in the NTSB report.”
A USCG spokesman told this publication that it is continuing to conduct its own independent marine causality investigation “and will consider the NTSB recommendations” once this is concluded.
He said, “it would be inappropriate to comment on any specific future action that may stem from NTSB’s recommendations”. However, he added “We appreciate the exceptionally strong co-operation between the USCG and NTSB to identify causal factors that lead to marine casualties and will consider their recommendations.”
NTSB criticised the USCG and ABS for “ineffective inspections and surveys” in the run up to the explosion and fire that destroyed Bouchard oil transportation Barge 255 on 20 October 2017.
This was part of an articulated tug and barge (ATB) unit with tug Buster Bouchard at anchorage outside the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas, when the explosion occurred. Two crew members who were on the barge bow were killed in the explosion, 2,000 barrels of crude oil were released into the water from the barge or were consumed in the fire. The barge sustained more than US$5M in damage and was scrapped after the accident.
In the report, NTSB said “Bouchard Transportation’s safety management system and maintenance processes failed to ensure proper maintenance of the company’s fleet of barges.” It added “Bouchard Transportation management failed to promote and ensure a safety culture in the company, which compromised the safety of both the vessel and the crew.”
Inspectors and surveyors were also criticised in the report. “USCG marine inspectors who examined Barge 255 prior to the accident failed to identify unsafe conditions, which allowed the vessel to continue to operate at increased risk to the crew, the environment, and port facilities.”
NTSB continued “ABS’ survey programme was ineffective in ensuring the safety of barge and its crew.” It said the lack of communication between USCG and ABS “limited each organisation’s ability to assess the overall condition of Barge 255 and identify hazardous conditions,” including the corrosion on the forepeak/port cargo tank bulkhead. ABS questioned these findings of the report in its response.
On 20 October 2017, the crew were preparing to proceed into the port with a cargo of crude oil when there was an explosion and subsequent fire on the bow of the barge. There was no damage to the tugboat Buster Bouchard.
NTSB determined the cause of the explosion and fire was a leak of crude oil from the cargo tank into the forepeak void space of the barge. This led to a build up of flammable vapours that ignited.
Investigators discovered oil leaked from the port cargo tank through cracks and holes in a corroded bulkhead into the forepeak void space.
NTSB said this corrosion existed prior to the accident and compromised the integrity of the cargo containment in the port tank.