Explosion kills two crewmen on Bouchard oil barge off Texas


Two crewmen died after a loaded oil barge exploded in the Gulf of Mexico near Port Aransas, Texas.

The incident aboard the Bouchard Transportation barge B. No. 255 occurred at about 0430 on Oct. 20. The 468-foot vessel, part of an articulated tug-barge unit with the 127-foot, 6,140-hp Buster Bouchard, burned for nearly eight hours.

Du’jour Vanterpool, 26, of Houston, and Zachariah Jackson, 28, of Salt Lake City, were killed in the accident. Vanterpool’s remains were recovered three days after the incident; Jackson’s body has not been found. Jackson’s parents have filed a wrongful death suit against Bouchard.

The U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident but have not determined a cause or ignition source, Coast Guard Capt. Tony Hahn said. The blast left a gaping hole in the barge’s bow decking on the port side.

The incident spurred an extensive oil spill response. Nearly 2,000 barrels of crude escaped into the Gulf, and some oil drifted onto nearby beaches.

Bouchard Transportation of Melville, N.Y., owned and operated the two vessels and is considered the responsible party. A spokeswoman declined to comment.

The ATB was three miles offshore from the Port Aransas jetties with 133,000 barrels of Bonito Sour crude when the barge’s forward section exploded. The vessels were headed to a Corpus Christi area refinery. Investigators believe Vanterpool and Jackson were working on or near the barge’s bow at the time, Hahn said.

Buster Bouchard separated from the burning barge but stood by during the firefighting and oil spill response. The total crew complement for the ATB could not be confirmed.

The blast ripped a large hole in the vessel’s bow decking and caused nearly 2,000 barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Bonito Sour is collected through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and it is considered an unconventional crude. U.S. authorities do not regulate the transport of unconventional crudes differently than traditional crude grades.

The Port of Corpus Christi fireboat responded after the explosion, as did at least two Signet Maritime tugboats. The vessels fought the flames with high-density foam. According to the Coast Guard, the fire was extinguished at about noon on the day of the incident.

Oil spill responders laid 2,000 feet of boom around the barge, and another 6,000 feet of boom was placed closer to land to minimize impacts to the shore and shipping channel. The Coast Guard said the leakage stopped within two days of the explosion after crews removed 2,500 barrels of oily water from the barge.

Multiple skimmers, including the 210-foot Southern Responder operated by the Marine Spill Response Corp., or MSRC, patrolled around the barge. Clean Gulf Associates and the National Response Corp. also assisted. Miller Environmental oversaw the removal of oily solids from Mustang and Padre islands.

Capt. Jason Smith, acting commander at Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi, said much of the spilled oil came from the two forward tanks in the barge. “Likely much of that went into the forepeak tank and that is where it escaped from,” he said.

Buster Bouchard pushed B. No. 255 into Corpus Christi on Oct. 25 with an assist tugboat. As of late November, the barge was still moored at the Texas port.

Attempts to reach the Port of Corpus Christi and Signet Maritime for details about the firefighting response were not successful. Companies that responded to the oil spill declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries.

By Professional Mariner Staff