Environmental Response Policy

12/20/2018: Clean Gulf 2018 Recap – Incident response lessons learned

Editor’s note: Staff from Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi attended the Clean Gulf conference in New Orleans last month and had the opportunity to talk about lessons the responders learned from two significant marine casualty incidents. In this post, Maritime Commons is providing an overview of the presentations for the benefit of our readers who were unable to attend the conference.

First up, is a recap of a presentation on the 2017 Bouchard Barge 255 response and salvage operations. Second is a presentation about a gas pipeline spill near Port O’Connor, Texas in April. Both presentations were part of a session titled Salvage and Marine Firefighting Case Studies and Lessons Learned chaired by Rebecca Garcia-Malone, Assistant Director of Vessel Services for T&T Salvage.

From left: Lt. Joseph Anthony; Lt. j.g. Andrew Garcia; Douglas Martin, SMIT Salvage; Jim Elliot, T&T Marine Salvage; Zack Pickett, Sector Corpus Christi; Lt. Shannon Anthony; Rebecca Garcia-Malone (standing), T&T Marine Salvage.

Bouchard Barge 255

Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi’s Lt. Shannon Anthony and Mr. Zachary Pickett, who both responded to the 2017 Bouchard Barge 255 explosion, had the opportunity to discuss the incident and lessons learned with conference goers during this year’s Clean Gulf in New Orleans.

Anthony kicked off their presentation with an overview of the incident and subsequent operations.

The UTV Buster Bouchard and Bouchard Barge 255, loaded with 130,000 barrels of bonito, a medium crude oil, set out from New Orleans with the intention of pulling into the Port of Corpus Christi. On October 19, the tug and barge anchored in the Aransas pass about one nautical mile east of the Port Aransas jetties.

In the early hours of October 20, Anthony said the sector received a report of an explosion and large fire on the barge and that two crewmembers were missing. Coast Guard rescuers searched for two days but sadly, the missing men were later found dead.

Officials established a unified command comprised of the Coast Guard, the Texas General Land Office, Bouchard Transportation and its spill management team Gallagher Marine, and the Corpus Christi Port Authority. Other partners included NOAA, US Fish & Wildlife, and Texas Parks & Wildlife. Contracted oil spill response organizations involved included Marine Spill Response Corporation, Miller Environmental, and National Response Corporation. In all, about 150 professionals made up the incident management team.

Anthony said after the search and rescue mission, marine firefighting was the top priority. Salvage firefighters extinguished the flames using water fog and firefighting foam following a seven-hour battle, and soon discovered that about 80 gallons of crude oil per minute was leaking from the forepeak and into the water. The explosion had damaged both the deck and hull near cargo hold #1 and soundings confirmed there was approximately 2,000 barrels – over 100,000 gallons – of product missing from the damaged hold.

“It became very clear, very quickly that we were going to be cleaning up a lot of oil,” Anthony said. Incident commanders dispatched response vessels to perform skimming operations and deployed deflection and exclusion boom to protect sensitive areas near the port entrance.

Salvage operators attempted to raise the bow and stop the discharge using lightering and internal ballasting operations. Although they succeeded in lightering 2,500 barrels of product off the barge while it was still at anchorage, they were unable to determine the full extent and source of the damage. Ultimately, the Bouchard Barge 255 was moved to a nearby facility to complete the lightering and decontamination operations.

Bouchard Transportation completed decontamination operations Nov. 5, 2017.

The Coast Guard completed a formal public hearing in March 2018. Anthony said even now, over a year since the tragedy occurred, investigators are still working to analyze all the evidence, interviews, and facts to identify what, exactly, led to the explosion and the deaths of the two mariners.

Key Takeaways

A few months after the incident, the sector analyzed their actions and the decisions made during the three-week response.

“Overall, our response to the 255 barge incident was very good, considering the complexity of everything we faced; explosion, fire, oil spill, SAR, lightering, salvage, and decontamination,” Pickett said during his portion of the Clean Gulf presentation. “However, even though we did a good job, we should, we have, and we will always looks for ways to improve.”

Pickett provided a summary of those key takeaways:

• Responders benefited from the common language, standardized framework, and management- by-objective approach of the Incident Command System.
• Ensure a Qualified Individual empowered with full delegation authority is physically present with response leadership to make real time decisions and financial obligations on behalf of the responsible party.
• Evaluate tactical communications capabilities and coordination between port and commercial firefighting assets before an incident occurs.
• Identify and employ more natural resource trustees and technical specialists in order to improve the capability of the ICS Environmental Unit.
• Establish and use a Port Coordination Team to share real time information among industry port partners.
• Establish and/or deploy a Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit to minimize the incident’s impact on port operations.
• Identify all firefighting capabilities within the port, including equipment and supplies, staging, and mutual aid agreements before an incident occurs.
• Regularly exercise offshore pollution response tactics and equipment.
• Ensure there is a decontamination plan that identifies roles and responsibilities, suitable decontamination sites and approved chemicals and suppliers.


Dredge & Pipeline Incident

Sector Corpus Christi’s Lt.j.g. Andrew Garcia and Lt. Joseph Anthony then discussed the sector’s response to a dredge and pipeline explosion and fire that occurred near Port O’Connor, Texas, late in the evening on April 17, 2018.

Garcia, assistant chief of the Incident Management Division, said a mayday call came in around 8 p.m., from the crew boat Dakota that the dredge Jonathan King Boyd had struck an underwater gas pipeline while dredging in Matagorda Bay, and both the pipeline and dredge were ablaze in an uncontrollable fire from a resulting explosion. Fortunately, in this case, the Jonathan King Boyd’s 11 crewmembers, all uninjured, abandoned ship to another tug vessel that was involved in the dredging operation.

The crew feared the vessel’s structural integrity was compromised; about 19,000 gallons of diesel fuel was onboard the dredge, posing an imminent and substantial threat to the environment. Further complicating the incident, the owner of the pipeline, Genesis Energy, estimated the pipeline held 13,200 barrels of natural gas condensate at the time.

The Coast Guard, the Texas General Land Office, and the responsible party, RLB Contracting, Inc., established a unified command to handle the pollution response and salvage operations.

Once the fire aboard the vessel was extinguished, the responsible party made arrangements for it to be towed to Port Lavaca, Texas, on April 19. Later that same day, Genesis Energy representatives presented its dive and pipeline repair plan to the unified command. Contract divers completed temporary repairs to the pipeline April 26 and the Captain of the Port lifted all waterway traffic restrictions in Matagorda Bay and the Intercostal waterway.

Garcia said this response was particularly challenging for several reasons: the difficulty of extinguishing the intense fire; a lack of clarity surrounding which agency had jurisdiction over the pipeline; concern for public health and safety as well as the impact to wildlife; and the impacts to Matagorda Ship Channel, the Intercostal Waterway, and the Marine Transportation System.

Key Takeaways

Lt. Joseph Anthony, assistant chief of the Contingency Planning and Force Readiness Division at Sector Corpus Christi, said that on June 18, 2018, about 25 members from the initial responding agencies got together and spent 90 minutes reviewing their collective response. As with the Bouchard case, Anthony said that although the response to this complex event went well, there was room for improvement.

“We talked about the good, we talked about the bad, and most importantly, we talked about how to do things better,” Anthony told conference goers, before giving a summary of the key takeaways and lessons learned.

• Quick reporting of the incident enabled response resources to mobilize quickly.
• Establish relationships in advance with state and federal partners to ensure jurisdictional boundaries are understood.
• Ensure vessel owners/operators and their salvage contractors and subcontractors understand their responsibilities as stated in the Vessel Response Plan.
• Establish an Incident Command System that clearly delegates responsibility and ensure all responders understand where they fit in the org chart.
• Identify alternate points of contact to allow for time-critical decisions.
• Establish a Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit dedicated to evaluating the impact to commerce and waterway traffic.
• Use of the Port Coordination Team resulted in efficient communication of the progress of the response and expected impacts to the Marine Transportation System.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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