Mate injured responding to fire aboard barge unloading fuel in Tampa

Fire broke out aboard a fuel barge at the Port of Tampa, injuring one crewmember.

The 592-foot integrated tug barge (ITB) SMT Chemical Trader was unloading petroleum products when the blaze started just before 0200 on May 22, 2008. The barge arrived from Lake Charles, La., with a cargo of 75,000 barrels of jet fuel, 15,000 barrels of gasoline and an undisclosed quantity of diesel fuel.

The vessel was in the process of unloading at the Citgo bulk storage and distribution facility at the Port of Tampa when the fire started in a machinery space, according to Capt. Bill Wade, spokesman for Tampa Fire and Rescue.

According to a statement from American Maritime Officers (AMO), the vessel is configured with a bi-level machinery space located aft. The space contains a boiler and three diesel engines used to power the deck hydraulics.

AMO member Gavino Octaviano, the vessel’s second mate, was on watch and making his rounds of the vessel’s lower machinery space to record diesel engine readings. Upon completion of his rounds he returned above to the cargo control room to make log entries. An explosion followed shortly thereafter causing a fire outside the control room. Octaviano exited the control room and ran through the flames for a distance of about 20 feet to make sure that the vessel’s alarm sounded. He was injured in the process, receiving first- and second-degree burns on his hands and face. Octaviano was taken to Tampa General Hospital, treated and released.

The Julius Owner Corp., a subsidiary of Crowley Petroleum and Chemical Services, owns SMT Chemical Trader. According to Capt. Victor Goldberg, vice president of operations for Crowley Petroleum Services in Jacksonville, Fla., the cause of the fire is under investigation by the company. He said that the vessel was repaired and returned to service June 18.

The AMO statement said the Coast Guard commended Octaviano for his efforts to sound the alarm in the face of danger. In an interview with Professional Mariner, Octaviano said the Coast Guard told him that his response made him a hero. Neither the Coast Guard nor the vessel’s owner would immediately confirm details of the commendation.

The ship’s crew secured the pump room, and the vessel’s carbon dioxide fire-extinguishing system was activated. Carbon dioxide flooded the pump room, extinguishing the flames. Wade said that firefighters responded at 0152 and that the fire was under control at 0230.

No pollution to the waterway was reported.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Robert Simpson, a public affairs specialist at St. Petersburg, would not comment on the investigation.

Octaviano was recovering at his California home, Simpson said.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff