Bouchard Barge No. 255 Hearing Part 3: Conflicting Testimony and Disputed Phone Calls

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series focussing on the U.S. Coast Guard’s public hearing on the explosion and fire aboard the Bouchard No. 255 tank barge that claimed the lives of two people off the coast of Port Aransas, Texas on October 20, 2017. 

By Barbara Liston (Clearview Post) – Most Americans associate the Coast Guard with military service, but the agency also is the nation’s leading marine safety organization, conducting 5,400 marine casualty investigations every year. After two deckhands died in 2017 in an explosion of a Bouchard Transportation oil barge off the coast of Texas, the Coast Guard began asking why. The goal is to prevent future loss of life and property.

Highlights:

  • Deaths of two seamen is focus of U.S. Coast Guard hearing in Texas

  • Agency grills company about commitment to safety on oil-laden barges

  • Current and former employees differ on culture of safety

The off-duty captain of a loaded oil barge that exploded in 2017 off the coast of Texas denied knowledge of any vapor leaks or electrical problems on the vessel in testimony before a U.S. Coast Guard panel investigating the fatal accident.

Amos Franks had turned control of the barge over to Zachariah Jackson, 28, of Salt Lake City, nine days before the vessel caught fire and exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off Port Aransas.

Both Jackson and Du’jour Vanterpool, 26, of Houston, the only seamen on the barge at the time of the explosion, were blown off the vessel and died.

The 448-foot-long barge, known as Bouchard Barge No. 255, was loaded with 140,000 barrels of crude oil enroute to a refinery in Corpus Christi.

Franks denied previous testimony on July 17 by ship engineer Timothy Lerette that Franks said he spoke by telephone the night before the explosion to Jackson who was seeking instructions on how to vent vapors on the barge if necessary. Lerette testified that Franks had told him he believed at the end of the conversation that Jackson still did not understand the procedure.

Franks, however, testified he did not receive any phone calls from Jackson.

Jackson’s body has never been found. His parents are suing Bouchard Transportation of Melville, New York, owner of the barge and its tugboat, for more than $1 million.

The family alleges the vessels were “improperly maintained, dangerous, unseaworthy, and otherwise unfit for the purpose they were being used,” according to the complaint filed by Kurt Arnold of Arnold & Itkin in Houston.

Lerette also had testified that Jackson, who was new in his position as barge captain, told him that he felt his job was threatened by Bouchard vice president Kevin Donohue after reporting problems with the barge to Bouchard.

Jackson claimed Donohue told him that reporting the problems had been “a mistake,” implying he could lose his job, Lerette testified.

Donohue was scheduled to testify Thursday, July 19, but did not appear.

A lawyer for Bouchard, Jack Walsh, appeared before the panel on Wednesday to explain why Donohue sought to reschedule his testimony for July 27.

According to Walsh, the company received a call from Jon Shaw, Bouchard’s former manager of maintenance and repair. Shaw claimed he had been contacted by Coast Guard Lt. Commander Geralyn van de Krol, who is a legal advisor for the Coast Guard panel investigating the Bouchard explosion.

Van de Krol, who participates in the hearing, denied contacting Shaw.

According to Walsh, Shaw told Bouchard “he was contacted by Lt. Commander van de Krol stating to him that we, the Coast Guard, know that you, Jon Shaw, knew of a vapor leak on barge No. B275 and that Kevin Donohue knew of a vapor leak on barge No. B255 before that casualty occurred.”

The caller asked Shaw if he would be willing to provide information to the Coast Guard and, if not, he would be subpoenaed, Walsh said.

Because of this development, Donohue needed time to hire and consult with a personal lawyer, Walsh said.

Van de Krol responded by saying, “I at no point ever spoke to Mr. Jon Shaw.”

A Bouchard representative sitting at the company table in the hearing room said records indicated that Shaw had a 23-minute phone call with a Coast Guard facility.

At that point, Bruce Davies, chief of Coast Guard investigations for the Houston-Galveston sector, announced that the discussion would be taken off the record and the livestream video of the event was halted.

Shaw, who stopped working for Bouchard in February 2018, does not list current employment on his LinkedIn profile. Reached through his Facebook profile, Shaw did not comment.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series focussing on the U.S. Coast Guard’s public hearing on the explosion and fire aboard the Bouchard No. 255 tank barge that claimed the lives of two people off the coast of Port Aransas, Texas on October 20, 2017. The full series of articles on the hearing can be found here or at the links below:

Links to more articles in the series:

Part 1: ‘I Was Hearing Blasts Every Second

Part 2: ‘He Slipped Out of His Life Jacket and Sank to the Bottom’

(You are here) Part 3: Conflicting Testimony and Disputed Phone Calls

Part 4: Former Bouchard VP ‘Shocked’ at Condition of Barge 255

Part 5: ‘No one could say they didn’t know about the problems’

Part 6: Final Day –  ‘Sitting On a Big Powder Keg’