Update: Bouchard Vessels at Port of New York and New Jersey Anchorages Flagged for Unsafe Operational Conditions

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 96
February 3, 2020
Photo: MarineTraffic.com / Josh Karpf

Certain tugs and barges belonging to New York-based Bouchard Transportation at Port of New York and New Jersey anchorages last week were required to submit safety plans to the U.S. Coast Guard at the request of a Captain of the Port order related to unsafe operational conditions.

A Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard tells gCaptain the order was rescinded the following day after Bouchard complied with the requested plans.

A spokesperson for Bouchard said the order was “immediately rectified”.

The initial order was issued to Bouchard last Wednesday, January 29 by U.S. Coast Guard Commander R.C. Sansone, Acting Captain of the Port for the Port of New York and New Jersey, after USCG Sector New York marine inspectors boarded all vessels owned and operated by Bouchard anchored within the Port of New York and New Jersey COTP zone. 

According to a copy of the order seen by gCaptain, during the inspections which took place Jan. 29, Bouchard crews reported “critical operational conditions such as low fuel and lube oil levels, potential stability concerns, and unauthorized vessel to vessel fuel transfers.”

“Operating between anchorages with low fuel/oil reserves and no contingency plan to adjust for significant weather changes poses a hazard to the port,” the order stated. 

Cdr. Sansone said his office has also received multiple reports of Bouchard crew members “not receiving compensation for earned wages which has resulted in notifications of crewmembers threatening to walk off Bouchard vessels.” 

“Due to the uncertainty of the situation described above, I have determined the vessel conditions and current operational practices pose a hazard to the Port of New York and New Jersey,” Cdr. Sansone wrote. 

Cdr. Sansone requested that all Bouchard towing vessels and tank barges at anchorage in the port area “submit a plan within 24 hours for storage at a safe berth or a plan to restore vessels to a safe operational status within the port.” In addition, Sansone ordered that no vessel be left at an anchorage “without a full complement of crew” and no barge be “left unattended without an assist tug at anchorage.” 

As of Monday, the Coast Guard spokesperson said there were no restrictions on Bouchard vessels within the Port of New York and New Jersey COTP zone.

According to Bouchard’s website, the company operates 26 tugs and 25 tank barges across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The majority are double-hulled articulated tug and barge units (ATBs).

It wasn’t immediately clear how many Bouchard vessels were anchored in the COTP zone.

A spokesperson for Bouchard sent us the following statement:

“There are currently no restrictions on Bouchard vessels within the Port of New York and New Jersey. The order last week was immediately rectified after close conversation between Mr. Bouchard and the Captain of the Port. Bouchard continues to work closely with the Coast Guard to ensure all vessels are operating under the safest conditions,” the spokesperson said.

Bouchard Transportation’s website says it is the nation’s largest independently-owned ocean-going petroleum barge company. The company was established in 1918 and remains family-owned and run by President and CEO Morton “Morty” S. Bouchard III, who has been at the helm since 1992. 

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that Bouchard and three of its officers, including Mr. Bouchard, had violated whistleblower protection rules when they fired a seaman who had cooperated with a federal investigation into a deadly barge explosion off Port Aransas, Texas in 2017 which resulted in the death of two Bouchard employees. 

The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into explosion found that the probable cause of the accident was a lack of effective maintenance and safety management of the barge by Bouchard. Bouchard’s safety culture also turned out to be a focal points in a two-week formal public hearing in 2018 into the cause of the barge accident conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard. 

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