[Updated] One Dead in Oil Barge Fire Off Port Aransas
The U.S. Coast Guard reported Friday that the oil barge B255 caught fire early on Friday at a position about three miles off the harbor entrance at Port Aransas, Texas. The barge was under tow by the ATB tug Buster Bouchard at the time of the incident. One of the tug's eight crewmembers has been confirmed dead and one remains missing. The USCG has not released information on whether any of the survivors sustained injuries.
At 0435, USCG Sector Corpus Christi received a mayday from the captain of the Bouchard, who reported that the barge attached to his tug was on fire and two crewmembers were unaccounted for.
The Coast Guard dispatched a small response boat and a Dolphin search and rescue helicopter to the scene, and the Port of Corpus Christi sent its fireboat to help with the effort to extinguish the blaze. The response team has established a 1,000 yard safety zone in the vicinity of the barge.
The barge is carrying approximately 130,000 barrels of crude oil, and initial reports indicate that there is an unknown amount of oil in the water. The USCG has deployed booms around the vessel to prevent the spread of pollution, and air monitoring is being conducted. The USCG reports that there are no signs of risk to human health at this time.
“In this situation, safety is paramount,” said Capt. Jason Smith, the Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi acting sector commander. “Our first objective is to find the missing crew members, and our immediate second objective is pollution response and ensuring navigational safety in the affected area.”
A unified command including the Coast Guard, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and a representative of barge owner Bouchard Transportation has been set up to oversee the response effort.
A spokesperson for New York-based vessel operator Bouchard Transportation was not immediately available for comment.
Local newspaper The Island Moon posted additional photos of the response effort at midday on Friday (below).