DRD Towing Sentenced for Mississippi River Spill

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

DRD Towing Company, LLC., a marine company located in Harvey, Louisiana, was sentenced in federal court by U. S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle to two years probation for violation of Ports and Waterways Safety Act and a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act and a $200,000 fine, announced U. S. Attorney Jim Letten. In addition, Randall Dantin, age 46, a resident of Marrero, Louisiana and co-owner of DRD Towing, was sentenced to twenty-one months imprisonment in a separate charge of obstruction of justice. Dantin was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and serve two years supervised release during which time he will be under federal supervision and risks additional imprisonment should he violate any terms of the release.

According to court documents, on September 8, 2010, DRD Towing Company, LLC. pled to creating hazardous conditions by (1) assigning employees without proper Coast Guard licenses to operate certain vessels thereby causing these vessels to operate in the navigable waters of the United States with manning levels below those determined by the Coast Guard to be necessary for safe navigation, and (2) paying licensed captains to operate a vessel for 24 hour a day without a relief captain, knowing that the Coast Guard viewed the use of over-fatigued mariners operating tugboats and barges to be a hazardous condition that would not allow for safe operation of the vessel. The statutory standard related to fatigue was that operators were prohibited from working for more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period. DRD also pled guilty to the illegal negligent discharge of oil on July 23, 2008 admitting that the M/V Mel Oliver, owned by DRD, was pushing a tanker barge full of fuel oil when it crossed in the path of the M/T Tintomara, a 600-foot Liberian-flagged tanker ship and caused a collision which resulted in the negligent discharge of approximately 282,686 gallons of fuel oil from the barge into the Mississippi River.

"These sentences demonstrate our commitment to hold accountable those violators who damage the environment and, at the same time, endanger their workers by placing them in harm's way,” said Ivan Vikin, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement program for the Louisiana region. “DRD Towing has a history of operating undermanned vessels that are often staffed with unqualified personnel. This manner of 'doing business' is both dangerous and criminal and will not be tolerated.”

In the second case, also on September 8, 2010, Dantin pled guilty to obstruction of justice for causing the deletion of “electronic payroll sheets,” from a DRD Towing laptop computer which were material to the Coast Guard Hearing convened to investigate the collision on July 23, 2008 between a the M/V Mel Oliver and M/T Tintomara.

This case was investigated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation and the United States Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dorothy Manning Taylor and Matthew Chester.

In a related ruling, John Bavaret, age 41,a resident of Jefferson, Louisiana, pled guilty in federal court before U. S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman to a two-count bill of information for a felony violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act and a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, announced U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

According to court documents, Bavaret held an apprentice-mate license, which allowed him to lawfully steer a tugboat only when a properly licensed captain was standing next to him on the wheelhouse. Bavaret admitted that from approximately July 20, 2008 through July 23, 2008, he steered the M/V Mel Oliver without a properly-licensed captain present, for DRD Towing, L.L.C., a marine company that operated tugboats. Further, he admitted that at 1:30 A.M. on July 23, 2008, the M/V Mel Oliver collided with the M/V Tintomara, a 600-foot tanker ship, causing the release of approximately 282,828 gallons of fuel oil in the lower Mississippi River near downtown New Orleans.

With regard to Count 1 (Ports and Waterways Safety Act), Bavaret faces a possible maximum sentence of six years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. With respect to the Clean Water Act violation, Bavaret faces a possible maximum sentence of one year imprisonment, followed by up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of not less than $2,500 and not more than $25,000 per day of violation. Sentencing in this case is scheduled for April 27, 2011.

The case is being investigated by agents from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U. S. Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U. S. Attorneys Matt Chester and Dorothy Taylor.
 

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