Mississippi River Oil Spill Barge Emptied, Ready for RemovalAug 7, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The barge responsible for the Mississippi River oil spill has finally been drained of most of its remaining oil, and salvage crews have now been cleared to remove the wreckage. In all, 165,000 gallons of oil have been recovered from the barge's storage tanks.
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. It has taken three days of nearly round-the-clock pumping to remove the remaining oil from the barge.
The Coast Guard has now estimated that roughly 254,000 gallons of oil was spilled from the barge. Though less than the 419,000 gallon it was carrying, that amount still makes this incident the largest spill on the lower Mississippi since 2000.
Yesterday, salvage crews brought in a 200-foot crane outfitted with a massive cutting chain. They are expected to begin cutting the barge into chunks today so that it can be hauled away. There is still a danger some remaining oil could leak from the sunken barge, especially if some that leaked from storage tanks made its way into voids.
American Commercial Lines, the owner of the barge, has taken responsibility for the clean-up of the oil spill, but not the collision that caused it. Because American Commercial Lines denies responsiblity for the collision, the company has said that it plans to seek protection from oil spill lawsuits that name it as a defendant,
Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, parties responsible for an oil spill must pay cleanup costs to a certain level. Once costs surpass that level the government can tap into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. However, if polluters are found to have been grossly negligent before the spill, they are responsible for all of the clean-up costs.
So far, the investigation into the oil spill has revealed that the person piloting the Mel Oliver did not have the proper license to drive the tugboat, and audio from the collision shows that the crew did not respond to repeated warnings from the tanker. The captain of the Mel Oliver was also not aboard at the time of the accident.
In May, DRD Towing, the company that owned the Mel Oliver, failed a safety audit and was facing probation or revocation from the American Waterways Organization, a national trade association for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry.
The Coast Guard will release more information about its investigation into the Mississippi River oil spill at a hearing next Tuesday. According to the New Orleans Time-Picayune, the Coast Guard has been in discussions with the U.S. Justice Department, but will not recommend any charges against the crew members or companies involved until the investigation is complete.