Bouchard restoring pay, making repairs after Coast Guard orders
After obtaining additional financing, Bouchard Transportation has begun to address deferred maintenance and crew payment problems that led to Coast Guard captain of the port orders against the towing company in four harbors.
The New York-based operator has begun paying crews who had gone without paychecks for months, and it is now dealing with maintenance issues that prompted the Coast Guard to restrict the operation of company tugboats and barges in New York, New Orleans, and Port Arthur and Corpus Christi, Texas.
At press time, Bouchard had resolved its issues in New York and partially resolved them in Port Arthur and Corpus Christi. The situation was unchanged in New Orleans, where the Coast Guard assumed legal control of two articulated tug-barges (ATBs).
In a prepared statement released on March 11, the company’s president and CEO, Morton S. Bouchard III, said that during the past two months Bouchard Transportation “has been faced with enormous challenges both financially and operationally. … Over the weekend, Bouchard was able to close on financing to start paying back vessel wages and meet other outstanding indebtedness necessary to meet all our obligations.”
Bouchard followed up with another statement March 16 in which he said he was “pleased to announce that all back pay has been processed. Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc. continues to work on raising capital that will enable the company to return all vessels back to operation.”
In mid-February, the Coast Guard captain of the port of New York and New Jersey ordered three of the company’s articulated tug-barge (ATB) units — tugboat Ellen S. Bouchard and barge B. No. 262, Evening Star and B. No. 250, and Frederick F. Bouchard and B. No. 260 — to be immediately moved from anchorage in New York Harbor and docked at safe berths. The ATBs were required to remain there with their crews aboard until undergoing additional safety inspections. The Coast Guard said the inspections revealed that Bouchard was unable to maintain safe fuel and manning levels, and it did not have adequate emergency contingencies in place for weather or other conditions requiring movement within the port.
Daniel Henry, spokesman for Coast Guard Sector New York, said in mid-March that “there are currently no restrictions on Bouchard operations in the Port of New York and there are no captain of the port orders in effect. There are no pending actions.”
On Feb. 14 in New Orleans, Capt. Kristi Luttrell, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans and captain of the port, issued notices of federal assumption (NOFA) for the tugs Donna J. Bouchard and Bouchard Girls and their associated barges. The vessels had been at anchor outside the port since mid-November. The orders allowed the Coast Guard to take possession of the vessels and clean any potential pollution from the barges. Bouchard Girls was moved to Associated Terminals in Chalmette, La., a few days later, while Donna J. Bouchard remained at the Nine-Mile Anchorage. The crews remained aboard both vessels.
Captain of the port actions against Bouchard included an order affecting the tug Donna J. Bouchard and barge B. No. 272. The ATB remained docked in late March in Leeville, La., “to eliminate the pollution threat posed by the vessels,” a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.
Bill Word photo
Lt. Rachel Ault, public affairs officer for Sector New Orleans, said in late March that Donna J. Bouchard and its associated barge, B. No. 272, and Bouchard Girls and its associated barge, B. No. 295, had been relocated to Yellowfin Marine Services docks at Fourchon Shorebase in Leeville, La.
“The federal government … continues to take unilateral response actions to eliminate the pollution threat posed by the vessels. The federal on-scene coordinator remains in contact with Bouchard,” she said.
The Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Port Arthur, Texas, announced in late February that it was pursuing enforcement action against Bouchard after the company failed to comply with a captain of the port order for one of its anchored vessels.
The tugs Kim M. Bouchard and Danielle M. Bouchard and their barges had been anchored off Texas Point since mid-December with no known plans to move them, and their crews had been unpaid since Dec. 31, the Coast Guard said. Capt. Jacqueline Twomey, captain of the port in Port Arthur, had issued orders to both tugs on Feb. 10 to resolve problems regarding manning and safety. Danielle M. Bouchard’s order was amended to require additional repairs or have the tug moved to a dock. The Coast Guard added that the company faced criminal prosecution and fines of up to $94,219 for each violation.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Johanna Strickland, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Port Arthur, said in late March that the manning issue on Danielle M. Bouchard had resolved, but there was still an unresolved maintenance issue. All issues for Kim M. Bouchard had been resolved and there were no further Coast Guard orders in effect for that vessel. Both remained at anchor, Strickland said.
In Corpus Christi, the ATB tug Barbara E. Bouchard and barge B. No. 240, whose crew had not been paid since Jan. 1, were docked at Martin Energy Services on Harbor Island in Port Aransas. With Bouchard in debt to the fuel company, Martin Energy had liens on the vessels so they could not be moved. The Coast Guard ordered the crew to remain aboard for safety reasons.
Ensign Hailye Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi, reported in late March that “there is no captain of the port order (still in effect for the ATB), but it is still docked with liens on it.”
In a statement to Professional Mariner on March 25 after the coronavirus outbreak had intensified across the country, Bouchard said that the company “and its remarkable staff on the water and ashore are doing everything possible to meet the energy and commercial needs of the United States at this time of unprecedented crisis. Despite complex refinancings made all the more difficult by the demands of sheltering at home and financial market turmoil, Bouchard Transportation was able to raise the funds to meet all of its salary responsibilities, work with U.S. Coast Guard to remove captain of the port orders, and return to serving the needs of its valued clients.”