Four killed in fire after tug and barges strike gas pipeline

Four crewmen died and one is missing and presumed dead following a natural gas pipeline fire in West Cote Blanche Bay near Cypremort Point, La., 100 miles southwest of New Orleans on Oct. 12.

The men, part of a six-man crew, were killed in a blaze that erupted when their tug Miss Megan and its two barges struck a submerged pipeline. The sixth man was uninjured. According to Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Nyx Cangemi, four men were on one of the barges and two were on the tug at the time of the accident.

The tug belonged to Central Boat Rentals of Berwick, La. Athena Construction of Morgan City, La., owned the barges. All three vessels were working under contract to Oklahoma-based Gulfport Energy Corp., according to John Kilgallon, the company’s director of investor relations.

One of the barges was carrying a medium-sized construction crane and the other was carrying creosote timbers. Gulfport Energy operates a large gas and oil field in West Cote Blanche Bay. The natural gas pipeline was operated by Chevron and transported gas out of the field. Following the accident all production in the field was suspended, Kilgallon said.

The vessels were working in the area and had stopped for lunch. The barge’s mooring spuds were up when a support cable apparently snapped, causing one of the spuds to plunge into the water and strike the gas line 10 to 12 feet below the surface, the Coast Guard said.

An unidentified person on the shore reported seeing 100-foot flames in the water off Cypremort Point and alerted emergency responders to the fire at about 1330. Search teams from the Coast Guard responded with an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter rescue crew from Air Station New Orleans and an HU-25 Falcon jet crew from Aviation Training Center, Mobile, Ala. A 23-foot rescue boat crew from Marine Safety Office, Morgan City, La., was dispatched and established a one-mile safety zone around the burning vessels.

Responders from the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office water patrol also participated in the search and were assisted by the St. Mary’s Parish Water Patrol and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The fire was extinguished at about 1500. Search operations for the missing crewman were suspended on Oct. 15.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board.

By Professional Mariner Staff