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Mississippi River Oil Spill Captain To Testify

Dec 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Mississippi River oil spill captain who was absent from his post when the accident occurred now wants to tell his side of the story.  Terry Carver, the captain of the tugboat Mel Oliver, had refused to testify at a Coast Guard hearing investigating the spill that wrapped up last month.

The Mississippi River oil spill occurred on July 23 when the tanker  Tintomara and a barge -carrying 419,000 gallons of oil - being towed by the tug Mel Oliver collided. The barge split in half, spilling much of its cargo into the river. It is estimated that about 280,000 gallons of oil actually spilled into the Mississippi.  The spill was the worst to ever occur on the lower Mississippi River.  

During the Coast Guard hearing, it was confirmed that  Carver had left  his post aboard the Mel Oliver just days before the spill.  Members of the crew said he had gone ashore on July 20 to deal with a problem with his girlfriend.  Carver had promised to return to the vessel within 18 hours, but never did.  

The Mel Oliver was being piloted by apprentice mate John Bavaret.  But because he did not hold a proper license, Bavaret should never have been allowed to steer the Mel Oliver without supervision.  Bavaret told the hearing that Carver’s absence forced him to take on both his own duties, and those normally performed by the towboat’s captain.  In addition to Bavaret, only two deckhands were aboard the ship.  Because he was doing double duty, Bavaret testified that he only had time for quick naps on the rare occasions he had down time.

Despite his fatigue, Bavaret said he was awake at the time of the accident, and his claims were backed up by one of the Mel Oliver deckhands.  But the other deckhand aboard the towboat testified that Bavaret may have fallen asleep at the helm.

According to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Carver has now notified the Coast Guard that he would like to testify. According to the Coast Guard, Carver could testify sometime this week.

Carver's testimony will likely delay the release of a final report on the spill, the Times-Picayune said.  It had been expected that the report would be finished by the end of this year.  When it is ultimately released, the report would include a conclusions about what caused the spill, as well as suggestions for new rules that may prevent a similar disaster in the future.  It could also could lead to fines or other sanctions for those involved in the accident, the Times-Picayune said.

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