Offshore InjuryBlog

Official Report: Bouchard Barge Explosion Caused by Ineffective Maintenance

Since October of 2017, Arnold & Itkin has closely followed the events surrounding the investigation of a Bouchard Transportation Co.'s Barge No. 255, which exploded and erupted into a violent fire just off the coast of Port Aransas, Texas. Our barge explosion attorneys are representing the family of Zachariah Jackson, one of the two workers killed during the incident. Officials never located Jackson's body after the force of the blast launched him into the water.

NTSB Finds Ineffective Maintenance & Safety Management

In its completed investigation, the NTSB confirmed that the explosion of B255 was the result of a “lack of effective maintenance and safety management of the barge by the Bouchard Transportation Co.” Just as suspected by former Bouchard workers immediately after the accident, the NTSB revealed that the explosion occurred because of the ignition of flammable vapor. The vapor came from crude oil that leaked into open space because of corrosion.

The report also found that Coast Guard inspectors failed to identify safety concerns on B255, allowing the boat to operate when it shouldn’t have been allowed to do so. Additionally, the American Bureau of Shipping failed to adhere to its standards and did not act when it identified substandard maintenance on B255.

“The series of failures documented during this investigation highlights the need for effective safety management systems, proper vessel maintenance, and thorough regulatory examinations,” said NTSB Director of Marine Safety Brian Curtis. “If implemented, the recommendations issued as a result of this investigation will help to identify the failures that led to this accident and prevent similar casualties in the future.”

This report confirmed what we already knew: negligence stole the lives of B255 crew members Zachariah Jackson and Du’jour Vanterpool. If Bouchard maintained their vessels, and if inspectors enforced safety policies, these two men would be with their families today.

The Accident & Coast Guard Hearing

The accident was nothing short of horrifying. Lonnie Roberts, a first mate on B255, revealed the horrific events of that day during a two-week Coast Guard hearing. He described a hopeless situation which found him watching “low blue flames” encircle his two stranded coworkers on the deck of the barge before they were launched into the water. Roberts testified that he heard “blasts every second” during the ordeal.

Bouchard Has a Record of Safety Issues on Barges

A timeline of the events also revealed that something went systematically wrong with Bouchard’s safety practices. Months before the accident, Morgan Jackson, the brother of Zachariah Jackson, was on a different Bouchard barge, B275, when a gas vapor leak left him incapacitated. Two other crew members reported the leak to the company. Bouchard’s responded to one crew member by telling him that “it wasn’t a good time.”

B275 was not the only vessel that had issues before the explosion of B255. On Bouchard Barge No. 245, there were numerous repair issues in the weeks surrounding the October explosion. The boat had so many problems, that its first captain refused to take the vessel from Tampa to Houston and stepped away from his post. Then, the second captain nearly refused the trip but eventually took the vessel to Houston, where he immediately severed ties with Bouchard. E-mails between B245’s former first captain and Bouchard reveal that the company was aware of issues on the ship and ordered its operation regardless.

Bouchard Claims Safety Record is Irrelevant & Seeks Payday from Accident

Bouchard Transportation sued the Coast Guard in federal court to restrict its investigation of the company. The company attempted to stop the Coast Guard’s hearing, but a judge denied this request. Bouchard tried to assert that their recent safety record did not matter, and it accused former workers of a carrying out a “character attack.”

Then, Bouchard invoked the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, a law that allows vessel owners to limit liability to the value of a ship and its cargo. While this act protected trade in 1851, it’s used today to defend negligent companies from accountability. The company used this law to request that their liability be limited to $5.9 million. At the same time, Bouchard filed an insurance claim valued at $18 million. So, the company essentially devised a plan to profit off this accident by limiting their liability and filing a hefty insurance claim concurrently.

Now, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation has confirmed Bouchard’s negligent behavior and a systemic failure of safety regulation by two government agencies.

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