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Poor Maintenance, Inadequate Inspections Led to Deadly Port Aransas Barge Explosion

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) believe serious maintenance deficiencies and inadequate inspections contributed to a deadly barge explosion that tragically killed two seamen near Port Aransas, Texas in October 2017.

As a Top Offshore Injury Lawyer, Ryan Zehl has successfully represented hundreds of people injured or tragically killed while working off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

Tugboat Was Raising Anchor When Barge Exploded

The fatal explosion occurred shortly before 4:30 a.m. on October 20, 2017, as the Buster Bouchard tugboat was raising anchor and preparing to move a 488-foot tank barge carrying 144,000 barrels of crude oil to Corpus Christi, Texas.

More than 2,000 barrels of oil either spilled from the stricken barge or burned off during the ensuing fire.

Two crew members, Dujour Vanterpool, 26, of Houston, and Zachariah Jackson, 28, of Salt Lake City, Utah, died in the blast. While a search team recovered Vanterpool’s body several days later, Jackson’s remains were never found.

Leaking Vapors Triggered Port Aransas Barge Explosion

The series of events leading up to the Port Aransas barge explosion apparently began when flammable vapor accumulated in a void space. According to the NTSB, the vapor was produced by crude oil leaking into the space from the number one port cargo tank through a corroded bulkhead.

The Board’s investigators also documented two cracks near the original bulkhead. Because these cracks were never repaired, they compromised the integrity of the number one port tank.

Coast Guard Inspectors Failed to Identify Unsafe Conditions

U.S. Coast Guard inspectors apparently failed to identify any of these unsafe conditions prior to the Port Aransas barge explosion. At the same time, the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) neglected to act when its surveys also highlighted substandard maintenance and various hazards aboard the vessel.

“The NTSB also found no indication of collaborative communications between ABS and Coast Guard regarding deficiencies discovered by either organization prior to the explosion,” the Board noted. “The lack of communication between ABS and the Coast Guard prevented a coordinated effort to evaluate the structural condition of the tank barge.

To prevent similar accidents in the future, the NTSB urged the Coast Guard and ABS to create joint policies and procedures for sharing information related to vessel safety. The Board also recommended that Bouchard Transportation, the owner of the doomed barge, commission an independent third party to evaluate its safety management system and identify any deficiencies.

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