Bouchard Transportation files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc., the largest independent petroleum barge company in the United States, announced in September that it and 51 subsidiaries had filed petitions to restructure under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
The filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas followed an announcement in March that Bouchard had obtained financing to settle multiple claims from dockage companies and employees that they had not been paid, as well as claims for accidents involving company barges.
The filing estimates the company’s assets at $500 million to $1 billion, and liabilities at $100 million to $500 million. The largest unsecured debt was $17.4 million owed to VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss.
Bouchard stated that it intends to fund the Chapter 11 process with debtor-in-possession financing. That would provide the company with the liquidity to maintain normal operations and pay its employees and its bills while it undertakes restructuring, which would include ensuring its fleet is in full compliance with all operating regulations while emerging in a stronger position for long-term success.
The company said it would fill several key executive management positions that were open at the time of the filing on Sept. 28. Bouchard declined to elaborate on this or comment further on the filing.
Bouchard was founded in 1918 and its first cargo was a shipment of coal. By 1931, the company had acquired its first oil barge. During the past century and five generations of family ownership, Bouchard expanded its fleet to 25 barges and 26 tugboats operating in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
After obtaining additional financing in March, Bouchard addressed deferred maintenance and crew payment problems that had led to Coast Guard captain of the port orders in New York and New Orleans, and in Port Arthur and Corpus Christi in Texas. The enforcement actions restricted operation of the company’s tugs and barges.
In December 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered the company to compensate a barge worker who the agency said was illegally fired after reporting safety concerns to the Coast Guard. The whistleblower decision followed the deaths of two Bouchard employees when barge B. No. 255 exploded off Port Aransas, Texas, on Oct. 20, 2017, spilling about 2,000 barrels of crude oil. The company was ordered to pay back wages with interest, and more than $250,000 to cover emotional distress and punitive damages.
In 2004, the company pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and was fined $10 million for an oil spill the previous year that fouled 90 miles of coastline in Buzzards Bay, Mass. •