NTSB: Propane Pipeline Breach Caused Deadly Dredger Fire

Dredger fire corpus christi
The fire involving the dredger Waymon L. Boyd, August 21 (USCG)

Published Oct 1, 2020 8:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released an interim report on the deadly explosion and fire that destroyed the dredger Waymon L. Boyd. Four out of the 18 crewmembers aboard the vessel and nearby assist boats were killed, and six more required treatment for burns. 

At about 0800 hours on August 21, the cutter-head dredger Waymon L. Boyd is believed to have struck an underwater 16-inch propane pipeline while dredging near the EPIC Corpus Christi Marine Terminal, a midstream facility on the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. After impact, a geyser of gas and water burst up next to the vessel, NTSB said. Shortly thereafter, the gas plume ignited, and the fire destroyed the vessel.

Several other vessels were working alongside the Waymon L. Boyd during dredging operations, like work boats, anchor barges, booster barges and a supply barge. A total of 18 workers were on scene aboard these vessels, and four were killed and six injured. No bystanders were harmed. 

The fire burned for about eight hours and was extinguished at about 1600. The dredge sank later that night.  

The damaged pipeline was a 16-inch liquid propane line operated by Enterprise Products and was installed in 1968. An underwater portion of the pipeline was near the area where Orion Marine Group was conducting dredging. At the time of the accident, the Enterprise Products pipeline controller received a low-pressure alarm on pipeline, and technicians closed valves upstream and downstream of the location to isolate the breach. The estimated release of liquid propane from the pipeline was about 6,000 barrels.

The NTSB is leading the investigation into the circumstances of the casualty. So far, its investigators have interviewed several of the surviving crewmembers and company personnel and collected documents regarding the dredging operations, crew training, and pipeline marking and damage prevention requirements. On August 24, an underwater inspection found evidence of mechanical damage and two wall breaches in the pipeline. The Waymon L. Boyd’s cutter dredge head has been recovered and will undergo examination. The damaged pipeline section will also be removed for testing at NTSB’s laboratory.