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Mississippi River Oil Spill Barge Finally Hauled Away

Aug 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The barge responsible for last month's Mississippi river oil spill has finally been removed from the water.  With the barge finally gone, attention will likely shift to the Coast Guard's investigation into the July 23 spill.   A hearing into the incident is scheduled to begin tomorrow, and several crew members from a tugboat and tanker involved in the accident are slated to testify.

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.

So far, the investigation into the Mississippi River oil spill has revealed that 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.

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.

The Mel Oliver is owned by DRD Towing of Harvey, Mississippi, a company with a spotty safety record.  On July 18, another DRD tugboat, the Ruby E, sank just a few miles from the site of the July 23 oil spill.  The pilot onboard the Ruby E. at the time of that accident also lacked a proper license.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, DRD Towing also failed a May safety audit and faces probation or revocation from the American Waterways Organization, a national trade association for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry.

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 responsibility for the collision, the company has said that it plans to seek protection from oil spill lawsuits that name it as a defendant.

At tomorrow's hearing , the tugboat’s captain and steersman apprentice, and the pilot of the tanker will give their accounts of the events leading up to the Mississippi River oil spill.  The Coast Guard is also expected to give an update on its investigation.  At that point, it may become more apparent which party or parties are responsible for this disaster.

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