Barge Captain Imprisoned for Fatal 2005 Explosion

Barge Explosion
Image of 2005 Barge Explosion

Published Jun 26, 2015 4:26 PM by Reuters

An Illinois man who was captain of a petroleum barge that exploded in a Chicago canal in 2005, killing a crew member, was sentenced to six months in prison on Friday, prosecutors said.

Dennis Egan, 36, of Topeka in central Illinois, and the barge owner, Egan Marine Corp. of Lemont, were each convicted in June 2014 of negligent manslaughter of a seaman and negligently discharging oil into a waterway, according to a statement from prosecutors.

The Chicago suburban company was ordered to pay $5.3 million in restitution to the National Pollution Funds Center for the clean-up.

On January 19, 2005, a barge being pushed by the tow boat "Lisa E" on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was carrying about 600,000 gallons of clarified slurry oil from an ExxonMobil refinery to the Ameropan Oil facility on the city's south side.

The barge exploded after a crewman, Alexander Oliva, 29, used a propane torch to heat the barge's cargo pump and ignited oil vapors. The use of an open flame on a loaded petroleum barge violates U.S. Coast Guard regulations and safe industry practice, prosecutors said.

The resulting explosion discharged thousands of gallons of oil into the canal. Oliva's body was recovered weeks later, prosecutors said.

Total cleanup and other costs from the spill were more than $12 million, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel concluded that Egan and Egan Marine permitted the use of open flames by crew members, even though it was a safety violation.

"The ultimate tragedy of their crimes is that Alex Oliva would not have lost his life if the defendants valued basic safety higher than expediency," said U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, in a statement.

A sentencing hearing on restitution costs against Dennis Egan will be held next week, said defense attorney William Walters. Dennis Egan, who faces the same restitution as Egan Marine, is considering an appeal, Walters said.