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Coast Guard suspends search for two crewmembers after Texas barge fire

Oct 20, 2017 02:11 PM

Spill recovery continues after an explosion on the Bouchard vessel off Port Aransas

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas) — The Coast Guard suspended its search for two crewmembers offshore of Port Aransas, Texas on Saturday evening.

The two men went missing after the forward section of a barge they were on exploded and caught fire Friday morning, three miles off the jetties of Port Aransas. 

The Coast Guard completed a comprehensive search for the two unaccounted crewmembers on Friday and Saturday. Multiple oil discharge recovery and Coast Guard assets are still on scene in the vicinity of the barge that continue to maintain a vigilant watch for the men.

The Coast Guard is ready to resume the search upon receiving any new information on the status or location of the two men.

“We want to convey our deepest condolences to the families of the two crewmembers,” said Capt. Tony Hahn, sector commander of Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi. “Our crews performed an exhaustive search and will continue to remain vigilant and monitor the area closely.”

On Sunday, the Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, and Bouchard Transportation representatives continued to respond the oil discharge from the barge. Response efforts continue to minimize impact to the environment and the maritime community, which has enabled the Coast Guard to reopen the impacted ship channels. 

Discharge from the barge cargo tanks appears to have stopped following the removal of 2,500 barrels of oil-water mix from the barge through lightering operations. Lightering is currently suspended due to weather, but will resume with improvement in sea conditions. Containment boom remains in place around the vessel, though sheening from the barge and containment boom is present. Coast Guard air overflights found no oil in the vicinity of the Entrance and Jetty channels.

The Coast Guard has reopened the Entrance Channel to inbound and outbound traffic. The port is now fully open with the exception of the restrictions outlined in marine safety information broadcast 16-17 regarding Hurricane Harvey. 

Deflection and protection boom remain in place inside the channel as a precaution against any environmental impact and a 1,000-yard safety zone remains in effect around the barge.

Skimming boats have responded to the discharge, including the 210-foot Southern Responder.

Discharged oil has made shoreline impact on Mustang Island and North Padre Island. For public safety, it is imperative to stay away from the oil and to not touch or handle it. Three beach cleanup crews have been deployed and are actively cleaning the impacted shoreline. Crews recovered 34 cubic yards of oil, sand, and debris mixture from the impacted beaches thus far. Air monitoring teams are in place onshore and on the water to ensure safe air quality for responders and the public. Three additional teams will join beach cleanup operations on Monday.

Two wildlife response teams have been deployed between the Padre Island National Seashore and Port Aransas. They are actively engaged in assessing any impacted wildlife.

“The unified command continues to aggressively work on all aspects of this incident,” said Capt. Tony Hahn, the sector commander of Sector/Air Corpus Christi.

PREVIOUS REPORT

(CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas) — The Coast Guard is responding to a vessel that caught fire Friday morning three miles off the jetties of Port Aransas, Texas.

At 4:35 a.m., Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi watch standers received a mayday from the captain of the tug vessel Buster Bouchard over Channel 16 who reported that the barge B255 attached to his tug was on fire and two crewmembers were unaccounted for.

A Coast Guard Station Port Aransas 45-foot response boat and an Air Station Corpus Christi MH-65 Dolphin helicopter air crew departed to search for the missing crewmembers.

A unified command consisting of the Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office and a representative from Gallagher, who is representing Bouchard Transportation which owns the barge, has been set up to manage the incident.

The Port of Corpus Christi's fireboat along with other local assets are on scene and attempting to extinguish the fire.

The Coast Guard has established a 1,000-yard safety zone and is working with the pilots and harbor master to control vessel traffic in the area.

As a precautionary measure, air monitoring is being conducted. At this time, there is no indication of health risks to the public.

Pollution boom is being staged to protect the environment. The barge is loaded with approximately 133,000 barrels of crude oil. There are initial reports of some oil in the water.

"In this situation, safety is paramount," said Capt. Jason Smith, Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi acting sector commander. "Our first objective is to find the missing crewmembers, and our immediate second objective is pollution response and ensuring navigational safety in the affected area."

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