Two employees with Marine Spill Response Corp. (MSRC) died when their workboat capsized near Boothville, La., on the Lower Mississippi River.
Katelyn Carlisle and Ruben Arellano were deploying boom in an exercise aboard a 32-foot Munson support boat when the vessel capsized. Both went overboard, according to MSRC, which said the incident happened Jan. 16 at about 1040 near mile marker 18.
“These are routine and important training exercises that MSRC trained professionals perform to practice deploying boom in various marine environments within designated timelines,” the company said in a prepared statement. “MSRC conducts such boom deployments at least 10 times annually in U.S. waters on all coasts, and to date has successfully completed over 500 of these evolutions without experiencing any reportable safety issues involving the Munson boat.”
The Coast Guard is investigating but declined to comment on the ongoing case. A spokesman from the service’s New Orleans office confirmed the incident occurred during a training exercise but referred additional questions to MSRC, based in Herndon, Va.
Carlisle and Arellano were working alongside the 220-foot Louisiana Responder when their smaller vessel capsized and sank. At the time, the workboat was towing boom connected to Louisiana Responder. MSRC has released limited information about the capsizing and said it would not provide additional information during the formal investigation.
Louisiana Responder, based at Fort Jackson on the Lower Mississippi, is one of 14 Responder-class oil spill vessels that MSRC stations around the U.S. Each is equipped with a 32-foot Munson workboat primarily used for towing the leading edge of boom and other response activities, according to the MSRC website.
The Coast Guard conducted an extensive search for Carlisle and Arellano lasting 27 hours and covering 130 square miles. State and local agencies, along with good Samaritans, also participated from the air and water. The effort was suspended at about 1500 on Jan. 17.
River conditions at mile marker 18 at the time of the incident could not be determined. But a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather buoy in nearby Pilottown, La., registered 6- to 8-mph winds when the Munson boat capsized. The Carrollton Gauge at mile marker 102.8 in New Orleans registered 15 feet at 0800 on Jan. 16, two feet below flood stage.
Salvage teams using side-scanning sonar located the sunken vessel mid-morning on Jan. 17, MSRC said. Poor visibility, low water temperatures and currents between 3 and 4 knots complicated recovery efforts.
Salvors raised the workboat at about 1100 on Jan. 18 and placed it onto a waiting barge. Soon afterward, deputies from the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office found Arellano’s body, MSRC said. It was not clear if his body was inside the boat. As of mid-February, Carlisle’s remains had not been recovered.
Multiple phone messages left with a spokesman for the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office were not returned.
Arellano, 48, was a master responder who had worked with MSRC since June 2010. Carlisle, 24, joined the company in November 2017 as a responder. In a prepared statement issued just after the incident, MSRC said it was “deeply saddened” and was focusing on supporting the victims’ families.
“This is the first time our organization has suffered an incident of this severity,” MSRC said. “We are fully committed to working with the USCG, and internally, to thoroughly investigate the incident and continue our efforts to mitigate possible risk of injury to our employees in any work that we perform.”
MSRC is a nonprofit organization formed in 1990 to address oil spills and other environmental hazards. Its funding comes entirely from the Marine Preservation Association, a membership organization primarily comprised of companies in the oil and transportation industries.