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ACBL Found Not at Fault for 2008 Mississippi River Collision and Oil Spill

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

December 9, 2021

Three tugs hold up a barge that was split in two on the Mississippi, July 23, 2008. At about 2 a.m. that day the 600-foot tanker Tintomara and the Mel Oliver tug and barge collided and approximately 400,000 gallons of number six fuel oil spilled from the barge. (Photo: Chris Lippert / U.S. Coast Guard)

Three tugs hold up a barge that was split in two on the Mississippi, July 23, 2008. At about 2 a.m. that day the 600-foot tanker Tintomara and the Mel Oliver tug and barge collided and approximately 400,000 gallons of number six fuel oil spilled from the barge. (Photo: Chris Lippert / U.S. Coast Guard)

Jeffersonville, Ind.-based barging company American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) said it has been cleared of any fault related to the 2008 Mel Oliver collision and resulting oil spill on the Mississippi River.

The announcement comes after more than 13 years of legal proceedings and is the result of a settlement agreement reached on November 18, 2021, with the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Louisiana regarding the case.

It was determined that fault for the collision and resulting oil spill belongs to Harvey, La.-based DRD Towing, which operated and crewed the towboat Mel Oliver that was towing the ACBL-owned DM-932 barge at the time of the collision.

On July 23, 2008, Mel Oliver was pushing a tank barge full of fuel oil when it crossed in the path of the Tintomara, a 600-foot Liberian-flagged tanker, and caused a collision that led to the discharge of approximately 282,686 gallons of fuel oil from the barge into the Mississippi River.

Even though ACBL was found not at fault, The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) requires the owner/operator of a red flagged barge to cover damages left unpaid by the negligent insolvent party. "Accordingly, ACBL agreed in October 2016 to compromise the government's claim for all damages resulting from the oil spill for $20 million, which was fully paid in August of 2018. In addition to the settlement payment, ACBL and its insurers paid more than $75,000,000 to clean up the spill," explained John Nicoletti, outside counsel for ACBL throughout the 13-year Mel Oliver proceeding.

"Although the Mel Oliver collision was a disastrous event for our industry, ACBL has worked diligently and transparently from the beginning with all parties involved to mitigate the damages that occurred due to DRD's negligence," said ACBL CEO Mike Ellis. "After many years, we are pleased to see this case finally reach its conclusion."

ACBL recently funded the acquisition of 650 acres of property for the protection of wildlife in upper Plaquemines Parish, La.

"Our commitment to the environment never wavered throughout this process and remains strong today," Ellis said. "The woodland wildlife habitat will be managed by The Woodlands Conservancy, a local nonprofit that will keep the land available for recreation and educational purposes. Most importantly, this will forever preserve the local ecosystem."

"ACBL has a strong legacy of more than 105 years of safe, efficient, marine transportation service in the U.S.," Ellis added. "Every day, we move our customers' products, safely and efficiently throughout the U.S. inland waterway systems. Our commitment to the safety of our people, our customers' cargos and our environment, is the backbone of our culture."

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