Crewman drowns, four rescued after towboat capsizes in Texas


A towboat capsized in the San Jacinto River near Houston, leading to the loss of one of five crewmembers.

At about 0744 on April 19, the 67-foot, 1800-hp Ricky J Leboeuf, operated by Taira Lynn Marine Limited No. 7 LLC of Houma, La., took on water and flipped in the San Jacinto River about a half-mile south of Interstate 10 in Houston. Four of the five crewmembers were pulled from the water by marine rescue units. The fifth person, Joshua S. Brazeal, could not be located. 

Personnel from Kirby Inland Marine working in the area notified the Coast Guard at 0811. Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston launched an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and a Station Houston response boat. The Coast Guard coordinated a Harris County Sheriff’s Office boat and requested a dive team to assist in the search.

The Coast Guard helicopter crew spotted the body at 0947 and directed a marine rescue unit to the location. Brazeal was unresponsive when he was pulled from the water and was transported to a local hospital. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences has issued the cause of death as accidental due to drowning. The final report has not yet been issued.

Waterway traffic into the San Jacinto River was briefly restricted during the search. The vessel was salvaged April 27 and taken to a nearby shipyard, according to Dustin Williams, Coast Guard public affairs specialist third class.

It was reported that Brazeal, 33, of Brookwood, Ala., was wearing a buoyant work vest. Brazeal was working his way up from a deck hand to become a tankerman, friends told the local newspaper.

Video released by the sheriff’s office shows the tugboat up against a barge before turning broadside to it, capsizing and sinking.

The Coast Guard investigation into the incident is still ongoing. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office referred all questions to the Coast Guard as the investigating agency.

Local reports say the region was hit by record rainfall, with more than a foot of rain falling in Houston. The river was at high flood stage. Flooding has been blamed for five deaths in the area.

The high water level delayed the salvage, with divers placing an anchor on the submerged towboat to prevent it from being pushed into the Houston Ship Channel, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Kendrick. The tugboat was raised from the bottom eight days later.

By Professional Mariner Staff