Bankruptcy judge removes Morton Bouchard as CEO of company

Morton Bouchard
Morton Bouchard
Morton S. Bouchard III addresses the audience at a Coast Guard Foundation dinner in New York City in 2016. Bouchard Transportation’s financial difficulties led to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last September and Bouchard’s subsequent removal as CEO on
Feb. 26.

A bankruptcy court judge in Texas in February ordered the beleaguered Bouchard Transportation Co. to immediately remove CEO Morton S. Bouchard III from his position.

Bouchard had been the fourth generation of his family to run the 103-year-old towing company based in Melville, N.Y. He and the company declined to comment on the decision or who might succeed him.

The order by Judge David R. Jones came at a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. Bouchard and 51 subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September with debtor-in-possession financing that would allow the company to continue to operate. 

Bouchard Transportation has faced financial difficulties due to the pandemic as well as civil lawsuits and federal compliance action after a fatal accident involving one of the company’s vessels. An explosion killed two crewmembers aboard barge B. No. 255 in October 2017 off Port Aransas, Texas, releasing about 2,000 barrels of crude oil.

The company told the bankruptcy court on Feb. 24 that it was in talks with its lender about access to new emergency loans to cover operating expenses and payroll. But with the financing still uncertain at a subsequent court conference, Jones halted the discussion and ousted Bouchard as CEO in a Feb. 26 order. 

Matthew Ray of Portage Point Partners LLC was appointed chief restructuring officer for the company. The judge also authorized the debtors to transfer barge B. No. 260 to Billybey Marina Services LLC of New York City. 

In March 2020, Bouchard announced that it had obtained financing sufficient to settle multiple claims from dockage companies and employees that had not been paid, along with claims for accidents involving company barges. The bankruptcy filing estimated Bouchard’s assets at $500 million to $1 billion, with liabilities from $100 million to $500 million. The largest unsecured debt was $17.4 million owed to VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss.

Early this year, after obtaining additional financing, Bouchard addressed deferred maintenance and crew payment problems that led to it being the subject of Coast Guard captain of the port enforcement actions. The orders restricted the operation of company tugs and barges in New York, New Orleans and Port Arthur and Corpus Christi in Texas.

In December 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered the company to compensate a barge worker who the agency said was illegally fired after reporting safety concerns to the Coast Guard. The company was ordered to pay back wages with interest and more than $250,000 for emotional distress and punitive damages.

The company was founded in 1918 by Frederick Bouchard and its first cargo was a shipment of coal. By 1931, Bouchard had acquired its first oil barge. Morton S. Bouchard III took over running the company in 1992. During his watch, the company expanded its operations to cover all three U.S. coasts and the Great Lakes. Its fleet includes 25 barges and 26 tugs.

By Professional Mariner Staff