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Crews Ready to Move Part of Mississippi River Oil Spill Barge

Aug 5, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
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Crews have emptied the barge responsible for last month's Mississippi River oil spill of its remaining oil, and could remove a large chunk of the vessel from the river at some point today.  

The sunken barge was involved in an oil spill that occurred the morning of July 23.  The barge, loaded down with more than 400,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil, was being towed by the tugboat the Mel Oliver when it collided with a tanker.  The barge split in half, spilling its cargo into the Mississippi River. The river was closed to shipping for several days.

The barge has remained, partially sunken, in the Mississippi River since the spill. During most of that time, it continued to leak oil into the river.  The barge needed to be secured and emptied of remaining oil before it can be hauled out of the river.  The vessel was finally secured over the weekend.

According to the Coast Guard, crews have finished draining the storage tank in the front of the ship of its oil.  That should allow crews to remove the front half of the barge from the river.  The Coast Guard hopes to have the stern tank pumped out soon, and the rear half of the barge may be pulled out of the river on Wednesday.

So far, the Coast Guard has been unable to estimate how much oil remained on the sunken barge, but should have a number soon.  Until then, no one can know how much toxic oil might have made it into the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has released findings of its preliminary investigation of the oil spill.  According to radio transmissions released by the Coast Guard, it is apparent that the Mel Oliver received repeated warnings from both Coast Guard personnel and the pilot of the tanker to get out of the way in the minutes leading up to the crash.  Unfortunately, no one on the Mel Oliver ever responded to the warnings.

At the time of the collision, no one aboard the Mel Oliver was properly licensed to pilot a tugboat.  According to the Coast Guard, the captain of the tugboat was not even aboard. All personnel on the other tanker were properly licensed.

The Mel Oliver is currently being inspected for mechanical or electrical problems. There were no mechanical or electrical problems with the tanker, said the Coast Guard.

The incidents leading up to the Mississippi River oil spill could become clearer later this month.  Both the pilot of the Mel Oliver, its steersman apprentice, and the pilot of the tanker are slated to testify at a hearing in New Orleans on Aug. 12.

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