Bouchard pays crewman fired after cooperating in accident probe

Mort Bouchard
A federal bankruptcy judge has removed Mort Bouchard III, above, as chief executive of Bouchard Transportation.

Bouchard Transportation Co. paid $375,000 to a mariner fired after cooperating with authorities investigating a fatal 2017 explosion.

Under an agreement with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the payments came from an insurer representing the company and the three executives, Morton S. Bouchard III, Brendan Bouchard and Kevin Donohue.

Bouchard Transportation, based in Long Island, N.Y., did not respond to a request for comment.

OSHA previously ordered Bouchard to pay back wages with interest and more than $250,000 for emotional distress and punitive damages to the mariner. The settlement was announced as Bouchard, which describes itself as the “nation’s largest independently owned ocean-going petroleum barge company,” undergoes chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Judge David R. Jones of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas in February removed Bouchard III as chief executive. Jones installed Matthew Ray, managing partner of Chicago-based Portage Point Partners, as chief restructuring officer to replace Bouchard.

The OSHA settlement stems from an October 2017 explosion aboard the barge B. No. 255 off Port Aransas, Texas, that killed two crew members. The explosion also discharged about 2,000 barrels of crude oil, causing more than $5 million in damage. Du’Jour Vanterpool, 26, of Houston, and Zachariah Jackson, 28, of Salt Lake City, Utah, died in the explosion.

Morgan Jackson, the brother of one victim, also was a Bouchard employee but not aboard the barge at the time. He was later fired after he cooperated with investigators and reported other safety issues.

OSHA concluded that the dismissal qualified as retaliation under the Seaman’s Protection Act. “Employers and vessel owners must know and respect that, under the Seaman’s Protection Act, seamen have the right to report safety concerns and cooperate with the U.S. Coast Guard and other safety investigators,” OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson said in a statement.

Under its whistleblower policy, OSHA did not name the seaman who received the financial payment from Bouchard. 

Besides paying the whistleblower, Bouchard agreed to remove from its files any reference to the seaman’s termination and provide any future employer only his position and the dates of his employment.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the explosion was likely caused by vapor released when crude oil leaked through a corroded bulkhead.

Bouchard has had other run-ins with regulators. In 2004, the company pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and was fined $10 million for a 2003 oil spill that fouled 90 miles of coast in Buzzards Bay, Mass.

In 2014, the New York Power Authority accused a Bouchard tugboat and barge of damaging an underwater cable near Hempstead Harbor by dropping an anchor on it.

Bouchard and 51 subsidiaries in September 2020 filed petitions to restructure through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. That followed an earlier announcement last year that the company had obtained financing to settle multiple claims from dockage firms and employees who said that they had not been paid.

Bouchard Transportation was founded in 1918, and its first cargo was a shipment of coal. By 1931, Bouchard acquired its first oil barge. Over the past century and five generations of family ownership, Bouchard expanded its fleet to 25 barges and 26 tugs operating in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean Sea.

By Professional Mariner Staff