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NTSB Issues Preliminary Report on Fatal Port of Corpus Christi Barge Explosion

Federal investigators have issued a preliminary report on the deadly pipeline explosion that tragically killed four maritime workers aboard an Orion Marine Group dredge vessel operating in the Port of Corpus Christi last month.

Dredge Vessel Struck Submerged Propane Pipeline

The four men went missing on the morning of August 21st, shortly after the Waymon L. Boyd struck a submerged pipeline carrying liquid propane. A plume of gas escaped from the line and ignited, sparking a fire that quickly engulfed the dredge vessel and spread to a nearby grain silo.

Searchers recovered the remains of two missing men later that morning.  Salvage crews working to recover a portion of the Waymon L. Boyd located the bodies of their comrades two days later.

Eight other crewmembers were injured in the blast, including two people treated at the scene. Six were taken to local hospitals, including five later transferred to a San Antonio burn unit.

Enterprise Products Pipeline Was Installed in 1968

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the damaged pipeline was a 16-inch line operated by Enterprise Products Operating, LLC, and installed in 1968. At the time of the accident, the pipeline controller received a low-pressure alarm, and technicians subsequently closed valves upstream and downstream to isolate the pipeline. The estimated release of propane was about 6,000 barrels.

Several other vessels assisted the Waymon L. Boyd during dredging operations, including workboats, anchor barges, booster barges, and a supply barge. A total of 18 personnel employed by Orion Marine Group worked on the dredge and assist boats on the day of the explosion.

While the initial fire was extinguished shortly after 4:00 p.m., the blaze reignited later that evening. The dredge vessel sank overnight.

NTSB Explosion Investigation is Ongoing

On August 24th, an underwater inspection found evidence of mechanical damage and two wall breaches in the pipeline. So far, NTSB investigators have interviewed several of the surviving crewmembers and company personnel and collected documents regarding the dredging operations, crew training, and pipeline marking and damage prevention requirements.

“The Waymon L. Boyd’s cutter dredge head has been recovered and is being transported to a secure location for examination,” the report states. “On-scene work will continue with the removal of the damaged pipeline for further examination and testing at NTSB’s laboratory, as well as interviews with additional crew and company officials.”

Because the incident involved a pipeline, the NTSB is leading the safety investigation. The U.S. Coast Guard, Orion Marine, Enterprise Products Operating, the U.S Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Railroad Commission of Texas are assisting.

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