Parker Waichman LLP

Mississippi River Oil Spill Witness Contradicts Pilot’s Account of Accident

A witness to the July 23 Mississippi River oil spill testified yesterday that it appeared the improperly licensed pilot at the helm of the towboat Mel Oliver was asleep at the time of the accident.  That testimony directly conflicted with that of the pilot, who told the same Coast Guard hearing earlier this week that […]

A witness to the July 23 <"https://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Mississippi_River_Oil_Spill">Mississippi River oil spill testified yesterday that it appeared the improperly licensed pilot at the helm of the towboat Mel Oliver was asleep at the time of the accident.  That testimony directly conflicted with that of the pilot, who told the same Coast Guard hearing earlier this week that he was busy fixing the towboat’s radar just prior to the spill.

The Mississippi River oil spill occurred when the tanker Tintomara and a barge carrying 419,000 gallons of oil – being towed by 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.

On Tuesday, John Bavaret, the pilot operating the Mel Oliver told the hearing that he was filling in for the ship’s captain, who had gone ashore to visit his girlfriend.  Bavaret did not have the proper license to do so without supervision.  Because he was doing double duty, Bavaret testified that he only had time for quick naps on the rare occasions he had down time.  However, he said he was busy fixing the Mel Oliver’s malfunctioning radar at the time of the collision,  and it was only when he heard a warning from the Tintomara that he realized the tanker was heading straight for the barge being towed by the Mel Oliver.

Bavaret said he  tried to move the barge out the way, but claimed the Mel Oliver’s steering system jammed.  Bavaret also claimed that the vessel’s wing meter, which is supposed to detect whether the vessel has turned, was also broken.  In addition, Bavaret acknowledged ignoring radio transmissions from both Coast Guard personnel and the crew of the Tintomara who were trying to warn the Mel Oliver of the impending danger.  According to Bavaret, his radio microphone had fallen to the floor and that he did not want to risk reaching for the device.

But yesterday, a deckhand on another vessel near the Mel Oliver at the time of the collision claimed that it was his belief that the towboat’s pilot was asleep when the crash occurred.   Brent Ledet, a deckhand on the Judy Ann, said that as his vessel pulled alongside the Mel Oliver right after the collision with the Tintomara, a Mel Oliver deckhand shouted out that he “guessed he (the pilot) fell asleep.”

Ledet’s testimony also contradicted Bavaret’s claims that he tried to steer the Mel Oliver out of the way of the tanker.  Ledet said the Mel Oliver slowly drifted from the river’s east bank in a beeline across the river without a change in speed and no sign of backwash or smoke coming from the stacks. Those, he said, would have been signs that the pilot was awake and attempting to throw his engine into reverse.

Ledet also said that as the Judy Ann pulled along side the Mel Oliver, he saw the green glow of a radar screen in the towboat’s wheelhouse, which would indicate it wasn’t broken.

Coast Guard investigators have also said they checked the equipment after the accident and found no problems.

What Our Clients Say About Us
We have worked with thousands of clients and we appreciate them and their positive reviews. Here are just a few recent client reviews...
5 Star Reviews 150
We are very thankful to Parker Waichman for their expert guidance in our legal matter. We worked primarily with Benita Rollis who was extremely professional, supportive and always available to answer our questions and assist us in any way she could. We had a positive outcome and could not have done it without Benita and this firm helping us every step of the way!!!
janet adkins
a year ago
5 Star Reviews 150
The associates I dealt with, Shelly Davis & Christina Morace were extremely helpful and very pleasant to work with. They responded to my inquires in a timely fashion. They secured very favorable settlement.
John Ilardi
2 years ago
5 Star Reviews 150
I am so grateful to Julie Trinidad and Maryann who have been amazing every step of the way. They are quick to respond, kept me updated throughout this process and eased my mind by answering all my questions. Thank you again for all your hard work and support.
Allyson Paige
2 months ago

Why Choose Us to Help You?

We Take Care of Everything
Your situation is stressful enough: Let us take on the deadlines, paperwork, investigation, and litigation. We'll handle every detail so you don't have to worry.
No Recovery = No Legal Fees
We work on a contingency-fee basis, meaning that we only get paid from a portion of your settlement or jury award. If you don't get compensation, you owe us nothing.
Decades of Experience
Your situation is stressful enough: Let us take on the deadlines, paperwork, investigation, and litigation. We'll handle every detail so you don't have to worry.
Respected by Our Peers
Judges, insurance adjusters, and fellow attorneys all speak highly of our skills, and we've earned numerous accolades, including a flawless rating from AVVO.
We Have Many Locations To Serve You
We have the experience and the skilled litigators to win your case. Contact us and speak with a real attorney who can help you.
Long Island – Nassau
Parker Waichman LLP
6 Harbor Park Drive
Port Washington, NY 11050
Long Island – Suffolk
Parker Waichman LLP
201 Old Country Road – Suite 145
Melville, NY 11747
New York
Parker Waichman LLP
59 Maiden Lane, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10038
Queens
Parker Waichman LLP
118-35 Queens Boulevard, Suite 400
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Brooklyn
Parker Waichman LLP
300 Cadman Plaza West
One Pierrepont Plaza, 12th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
New Jersey
Parker Waichman LLP
80 Main Street, Suite 265
West Orange, NJ 07052
Florida
Parker Waichman LLP
27299 Riverview Center Boulevard
Suite 108
Bonita Springs, FL 34134
Nationwide Service
Parker Waichman LLP
59 Maiden Lane, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10038