The bow of RenÃ© I remains visible in the Sabine-Neches Ship Channel near the juncture with the Gulf of Mexico.
The accident occurred at 1124 on a clear day with excellent visibility in the Sabine-Neches Ship Channel, about 3.5 miles upriver from the end of the Sabine Jetties. Both vessels were headed downriver. The 784-foot Genmar Strength, which was empty, was proceeding at about 8.5 knots, according to Lt. Ian Bird, senior investigating officer at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Port Arthur, Texas.
The 110-foot RenÃ© I was traveling at about 6.5 knots because there is a no-wake zone between the Sabine Pilots station and the Coast Guard station at that point in the channel, according to Jim Skiles, vice president of Laborde Marine LLC, of Morgan City, La., which operates RenÃ© I. The channel is about 500 yards wide where the collision occurred, according to Bird.
RenÃ© I had left the dock of the marine construction company Horizon Offshore Inc. at about 1055 to make a trip to a Horizon pipe-laying barge offshore. The OSV was going south in the channel following the green buoys to starboard, Skiles said. When RenÃ© I pulled into the channel, Genmar Strength was not visible to the captain, according to Skiles. The tanker came from around a bend in the channel, he said.
The tanker struck RenÃ© I on its starboard bow, then scraped along the side of the OSV, according to Bird. The OSV immediately rolled over and began sinking, according to Bird. Genmar Strength struck the supply vessel a second time on its port side, knocking a hole 36 inches wide by 48 inches high into RenÃ© I.
Killed in the accident was Wade Leblanc, 41. Leblanc, who has been a captain since at least 1992, was in the wheelhouse but not at the helm, according to Skiles. He said another captain was at the helm of the OSV.
Bird would not identify who was at the helm of the tanker, although he said a pilot from the Sabine Pilots was onboard.
“It is my understanding that after it rolled over, they all managed to get themselves out of there, which to me was just a miracle,” Bird said.
Leblanc and the other captain apparently were swept out a door in the wheelhouse that was left open. The two people who were below decks somehow managed to crawl through the inverted vessel and get out, Bird said.
The Coast Guard rescued three members of the crew. The fourth was picked up by a Sabine pilot boat. All were transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Port Arthur. Leblanc, who was from Berwick, La., died May 1 of injuries suffered in the collision.
Bird could not say whether there had been communication between the two vessels before the collision.
Genmar Strength carries an AIS onboard and its movements were recorded by the vessel traffic system at Port Arthur, according to Bird. The crew boat did not have an AIS. RenÃ© I was equipped with a Furuno 48-mile radar and a Furuno GPS, according to the Laborde Marine website.
Genmar Strength, operated by General Maritime Management Ltd., of Greece, reported no injuries or pollution. The ship channel was closed to all traffic after the accident. It reopened to vessels 100 feet or smaller at 1500 that day and reopened to all vessels at 2200 on April 30.
The channel provides access for the Port Arthur refineries of Premcor Inc., Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Total S.A., as well as ExxonMobil Corp.’s Beaumont refinery.