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Mississippi River Oil Spill Witness: Towing Company Regularly Used Improperly Licensed Pilots

Feb 10, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The Coast Guard's hearing into last summer's Mississippi River oil spill resumed yesterday, with a former port captain for DRD Towing testifying that the company regularly let low-level mariners take charge of vessels they were not licensed to operate alone.  According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune,  the former port captain told the hearing that he wasn't worried that an improperly licensed pilot was working alone on a DRD towboat involved in the spill because "he always did".  

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 DRD towboat, the  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.

At the time of the spill, 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.   The Mel Oliver's captain, Terry Carver, had left his post 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.

Gary Daigle said at the Coast Guard hearing yesterday that he had left his port captain job with DRD shortly before the oil spill to take a lower level crew job because of his discomfort with the company's policy of allowing improperly licensed pilots to operate  its vessels.  According to the Times Picayune, he said he warned the owners of DRD Towing that allowing apprentice mates to work alone could cause problems for the company.

According to the Associate Press, Daigle also said he helped Carver leave the Mel Oliver prior to the spill.  Daigle did not worry about Bavaret working alone on the Mel Oliver because "he always did."

According to the Associated Press, Daigle said that DRD used three or four apprentice mates to steer the company's boats. The pilots should have been supervised by a fully licensed captain but they were not. Daigle said Randall Dantin, one of DRD's owners, authorized the improper use of apprentice mates as pilots.

DRD has since shut down.   Daigle said he now works for a company called Oak Marine Service in Harahan, Louisiana.  According to the Associated Press, that company is owned by Randall Dantin's sister.

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