Experts Question Maintenance Before and After Barge Explosion

The fire on the Bouchard No. 255 (USCG)

Published Jul 23, 2018 9:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

In recent testimony at Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston, two marine inspection experts described allegedly poor maintenance practices on board the Bouchard Barge No. 255, which exploded and burned off Texas in 2017, and a second barge in the operator's fleet. 

At a hearing session last week, Shawn Garry, Bouchard's former VP of Regulatory Compliance and Inspections, told the Coast Guard that Barge No. 255 may have been in poor condition when he visited it after the accident. Garry, whose 20 years of Coast Guard service included four years as a marine inspector and two as a marine casualty investigator, asserted that he observed signs of wastage on the vessel. "There was definitely some deterioration going on on the tank top and the deck area, whether or not that was the cause of it or not," Garry testified. "The material condition of the barge was kind of shocking . . . Extreme wastage, conduit wastage, thin metal, tank top pits."  [Video at 09:30 below] 

In a statement Tuesday, Bouchard characterized Garry's testimony as "misleading and inaccurate." The firm claimed the existence of internal inspection documents that Garry had completed for the Barge No. 255 prior to the accident voyage in which he gave the vessel a condition rating of "satisfactory," the highest available comment. 

In a retraction issued July 27, Bouchard said: "Upon further review, we now realize that Mr. Garry did not, in fact, inspect Barge No. 255 prior to the incident. We sincerely apologize for the error.”

Inspections and oversight on Barge No. 295

On Monday, Lt. Gregory Kennerley, a Coast Guard inspector for Sector Saint Petersburg, described challenges in working with company representatives during a shipyard period for another barge in the operator's fleet after the accident voyage involving the No. 255. 

Lt. Kennerley provided inspection and oversight during a yard period for the Bouchard No. 295, including site visits in December 2017 and January 2018, months after the explosion. His duties included monitoring and reviewing thickness gauging for steel plating on the barge's main deck and cargo tank expansion domes, then identifying areas requiring repair. He alleged that he had experienced difficulties in obtaining gauging reports from company representatives for the exact areas he identified for inspection. 

"When I asked about the gauging for the domes, [the representative] said that it had already been done and would send me the report," Lt. Kennerly asserted. In that report, "four [tests] were completed at the bottom of the domes, but I had requested gauging at the tops, since that's where the wastage occurred. That was the first issue that day, and I asked them to re-gauge that. Eventually those gauge reports did come back as deficient, and they replaced all of those expansion domes," he said. 

Lt. Kennerly described another incident in which he had pointed to pitting on the deck plates and asked that the technician gauge a specific pit. The company representative present allegedly instructed the technician to obtain a gauge at a location one inch away, where pitting was not present, Lt. Kennerly asserted. When directed again to the site of the pitting, the technician determined a gauge of 0.15 inches in thickness. This value was deemed deficient, requiring replacement.

The Coast Guard hearings on the Bouchard No. 255 explosion continue this week, and recordings of the full series of previous sessions are available online here.