Explosion kills three from dive boat decommissioning gas pipeline

An explosion aboard a dive support vessel killed three crewmen and injured four others during the decommissioning of a natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico.
The March 11 blast aboard Jillian Morrison sank the vessel and prompted the Coast Guard to rescue the crew. Six of the crew were injured and were flown by helicopter to Louisiana hospitals.
Two men, who both worked in the engine room, later died in a burn center. The third man, a diver, was missing for about two weeks until his body was found floating in the Gulf.
The 175-foot boat, with 33 aboard, had been performing a pipeline abandonment about 15 miles south of Marsh Island, La. The explosion happened at 2015 while Jillian Morrison was anchored in 25 feet of water.
The vessel was within South Marsh Island, Block 249. It’s an area with several gas pipelines branching out from a subsea tie-in.
Lt. Angel Flood, the Coast Guard’s investigating officer in Morgan City, said she has identified “safety, procedural and teamwork issues†associated with the job. The crew likely failed to take all safety precautions when they were handling the gas line onboard the vessel.
“They were bleeding water out of a natural gas line,†Flood said. “In the operation, I’m sure there were some procedures that weren’t adhered to exactly.â€
Jillian Morrison’s owner is Chet Morrison Contractors Inc. of Houma, La. John Deblieux, the company’s risk manager, said it will be difficult to determine what went wrong because the person directly performing the operation was the man who went missing. The explosion definitely happened below deck, he said.
“It’s obvious that natural gas got into the engine compartment,†Deblieux said. “The vessel blew up from the inside out.â€
Jillian Morrison’s air compressors, jet pumps and other dive support equipment are below deck. The main deck is used for material storage and fabrication of pipeline components, according to the vessel’s specifications on Chet Morrison’s Web site.
The Coast Guard said the crewmen who died in the burn center were engineer Michael Sonia, 43, of Franklin, La., and engine-room crewman Robert Stevenson Jr., 39, of Marrero, La.
The diver was Andrew Sievers, of Scott, La. The Coast Guard said his body was found in the Gulf, near Galveston, Texas.
Most of the vessel’s crew and divers who were aboard didn’t witness exactly what happened and couldn’t see much in the aftermath, Flood said.
“It was an explosion with a massive amount of smoke,†she said. “The wheelhouse was full of smoke.â€

Deblieux said Chet Morrison planned to hire Bisso Marine Co. to attempt to salvage the 272-gross-ton Jillian Morrison. The twin-screw vessel was propelled by two DDA 16V149 diesel engines.

By Professional Mariner Staff