Tug sinks, spills fuel near preserve for whooping cranes

A tug pushing a barge filled with cyclohexane, a highly flammable petroleum product, sank after taking on water in San Antonio Bay, south of Seadrift, Texas, on May 27 at about 2200.

Five hundred to 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel poured out of the tug’s starboard fuel tank. The accident occurred not far from the Welder Flats state wildlife area. Emergency response crews worked to prevent the spill from threatening the preserve, habitat of the endangered whooping crane.

Most of the spilled fuel was contained by booms deployed by state crews from the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program and private contractors.

The sinking occurred after the 51-foot 56-ton tug Charles Alfred began taking on water in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway while en route from Corpus Christi to the Victoria Barge Canal.

The vessel lost power and drifted quickly out of the channel, grounding in soft bottom, stern down. U.S. Coast Guard personnel from Station Port O’Connor responded and evacuated three crewmembers from the tug. There were no injuries.

Charles Alfred was made up to the side of the barge until its owner, Devall Towing & Boat Service, of Hackberry, La., could pump it dry. Once the tug was refloated, the barge was transferred to another tug, and Charles Alfred was towed dead-ship to the Victoria Barge Canal, where waiting trucks removed the fuel remaining onboard.

Because diesel fuel is highly evaporative, environmental damage was thought to be minimal.

The accident is still under investigation, but according to Chief Warrant Officer Troy Rentz of Marine Safety Substation Office, Port Lavaca, the tug sank as a result of water entering over the stern and not through a puncture or gash in the hull. Rentz said the sinking may have been the result of the way the tug was ballasted, but he noted, “It’s never just one thing; other things are being investigated.”

By Professional Mariner Staff