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Casualty briefs

Feb 27, 2017 12:41 PM

Court reverses convictions in fatal barge explosion
A federal appeals court in December reversed a manslaughter conviction against a pushboat captain and his company in connection with a 2005 barge explosion in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. A deck hand died from the blast and oil spilled in the waterway.

After a 2014 bench trial, a judge convicted Capt. Dennis Egan and Egan Marine of negligent manslaughter and polluting a navigable waterway. Egan was sentenced to six months in prison, and he and Egan Marine were jointly ordered to pay nearly $6.75 million in restitution. Prosecutors argued Egan told Alexander Oliva to use a propane torch to warm a cargo pump, which ignited fumes venting from barge EMC-423, causing a massive explosion. Egan was captain of Lisa E, which was pushing the barge.

The criminal conviction followed a 2011 civil trial against Egan Marine in which a judge ruled the government had not shown by a preponderance of evidence that Oliva was using a torch when the barge exploded.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Dec. 12 that the government’s loss in that earlier civil trial against Egan Marine precluded it from pursuing a similar criminal case against Egan and Egan Marine. The court ruled the criminal convictions reversed and the record to show both defendants were acquitted.

Operator was below deck when powerboat hit ferry
Crew aboard the Washington State Ferries vessel Chetzemoka saw it coming, ferry passengers on outside decks saw it coming, but the operator of the powerboat Nap Tyme apparently never realized he was on a collision course with the hulking ferry.

The two vessels collided on Dec. 4 near Vashon Island, southwest of Seattle. Nap Tyme’s port bow struck the ferry’s starboard bow. Video taken by a passenger shows the roughly 30-foot powerboat bouncing off the ferry on impact and the operator emerging seconds later, apparently unharmed.

Nap Tyme’s operator told Chetzemoka crew after impact that he was below deck and did not hear the ferry blasting its horn, according to ferry system spokesman Brian Mannion, who described the incident as “extremely rare.” Local media reported the man was below deck in the bathroom.

Washington State Ferries is reviewing the incident but believes its crew acted appropriately. The Coast Guard also is investigating.

Nobody aboard the ferry was hurt and the 273-foot vessel was not damaged. It’s not clear if Nap Tyme was damaged, and attempts to identify and locate the operator were not successful.

Inadequate voyage plan cited in Va. bridge strike
The tugboat captain whose barge struck a railroad bridge over the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake, Va., failed to properly plan for the bridge transit, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The agency also cited the tug captain’s failure to effectively use an assist tugboat.

The 3,000-hp Simone was towing the 220-foot barge Gayle Force from Chesapeake toward New York City. The tug traveled safely under the Norfolk Southern No. 7 bridge, but the barge hit the span’s fendering dolphins and supports at about 0720 on April 26, 2015. Gayle Force, carrying precast concrete, was not damaged, but the bridge needed $1.8 million in repairs.

Simone’s captain had only once before transited under the rail bridge and had never towed Gayle Force. NTSB investigators wrote that Simone’s captain did not hold a pre-tow safety briefing, discuss the towing package with the captain of the 1,100-hp assist tug, Maverick, or explain crew duties during the bridge transit.

Maverick’s captain had long worked in the Elizabeth River, although the NTSB said Simone’s captain never discussed the waterway or transit with him. Simone’s captain also was vague about Maverick’s responsibilities during the transit, telling the assist tug to “just keep an eye on the barge as I pull it out and then get a line on the back end somewhere.”

Simone is operated by Tradewinds Towing of New Orleans. Rachel Smith, the firm’s managing director, declined to comment on the NTSB report. She said this was the company’s first accident.

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