Kirby Inland Marine has agreed to pay $4.9 Million in civil penalties to settle claims stemming from a 4,000-barrel oil spill in the Houston Ship Channel after one of its oil barges collided with a cargo ship in March 2014, the U.S. Justice Dept. and Coast Guard announced Tuesday.
The company has also agreed to implement a fleet-wide improvement program, which includes additional equipment, training, and AIS requirements for every transit throughout its fleet.
In its complaint, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas along with the notice of lodging of a consent decree, meaning the settlement was reached with no admission of guilt, the United States alleged that Kirby is liable under the Clean Water Act for the oil spill.
The spill occurred on March 22, 2014 when a Kirby tow boat, the Miss Susan, was pushing two 300-foot oil barges in the “Texas City Y” area of the Houston Ship Channel in fog conditions. Despite detecting the nearby presence of a 585-foot bulk cargo ship, the Summer Wind, traveling up the Houston Ship Channel, Kirby’s tow boat and barges tried to cross the channel in front of the cargo ship, resulting in the lead barge being struck by the cargo ship.
Approximately 4,000 barrels (168,000 gallons) of heavy marine fuel oil was released from the barge into the waterway. The spill oiled approximately 160 miles of shoreline, including sensitive marsh habitat, the national wildlife refuge on Matagorda Island, Mustang Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore.
The incident, which became known as Texas City Y oil spill, closed the Houston Ship Channel for about three days.
In addition to the civil penalties, Kirby has also committed to improving its operations across its fleet of hundreds of vessels operating in the inland waters of the United States. The improvements will include the installation enhanced navigational equipment and additional employee training in areas such as navigation, use of equipment, and simulator-based scenario training. Kirby also agrees to improve operational practices such as entering complete tow dimensions in each vessel’s automatic identification systems before embarking on every transit. Finally the company agreed to waive any limits on its liability under the Oil Pollution Act related to the oil spill incident.
The penalties and remedial measures to be paid are in addition to the costs the company has already incurred or will incur to clean up the oil spill and reimburse federal and State response efforts, as well as compensation paid to victims and the public as it relates to the oil spill.
“This settlement sends a clear message that vessel owners and operators have a responsibility to protect our waters, people and the environment from oil spills and those who violate that duty will be held accountable under the law,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The remedial measures in this agreement will upgrade navigational equipment, provide employee training, and improve operational practices across an entire fleet of vessels.”
“This case illustrates the inherent risk in transporting oil and other chemicals along our waterways,” said Eighth Coast Guard District Commander, Rear Adm. David Callahan. “The Coast Guard remains committed to enforcement, prevention and response with regards to our nation’s waterways and natural resources.”
Section 311(b) of the Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge oil or hazardous substances into or upon the navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to the environment or public health.