Safety Board Determines Cause of 2006 Barge Fire

Thursday, June 14, 2007
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the failure of Athena Construction to require its crews to pin mooring spuds securely in place on its barges led to an unintentional release of one of the spuds. This resulted in a pipeline rupture that killed six. On October 12, 2006, the uninspected towing vessel Miss Megan was pushing two deck barges in the West Cote Blanche Bay oil field in Louisiana, en route to a pile- driving location. Barge Athena 106 was tied along the port side of barge IBR 234. The Miss Megan was secured astern of IBR 234 pushing both barges. While the vessels were under way, the aft spud (a vertical steel shaft extending through a well in the bottom of the boat and used for mooring) on the Athena 106 released from its fully raised position. The spud dropped into the water and struck a submerged, high- pressure natural gas pipeline. The resulting gas released ignited and created a fireball that engulfed the towing vessel and both barges. The master of the towing vessel and four barge workers were killed. The Miss Megan deckhand and one barge worker survived. One barge worker is officially listed as missing.

The Board stated in its final report that Athena Construction's manual contained no procedures mandating the use of the safety devices on the spud winch except during electrical work. It was found that if the Athena 106 crew had used the steel pins to secure the retracted spuds during their transit, a pin would have prevented the aft spud from accidentally deploying. Furthermore, the spud would have remained locked in its lifted position regardless of whether the winch brake mechanism, the spud's supporting cable, or a piece of connecting hardware had failed.

Contributing to the accident was the failure of Central Boat Rentals to require, and the Miss Megan master to ensure, that the barge spuds were securely pinned before getting under way. The Board noted that investigators found no evidence that the Miss Megan master or deckhand checked whether the spuds had been properly secured before the tow began. While Central Boat Rentals had a health and safety manual and trained its crews, the written procedures did not specifically warn masters about the need to secure spuds or other barge equipment before navigating. The company's crew should have been trained to identify potential safety hazards on vessels under their control. As a result of these findings the Safety Board recommended that Athena Construction and Central Boat Rentals should develop procedures and train the employees of its barges to use the securing pins to hold spuds safely in place before transiting from one site to another.

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