Coast Guard crews respond to a dredge on fire in the Port of Corpus Christi Ship Channel, Aug. 21, 2020. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The National Transportation Safety Board says the dredge Waymon L. Boyd reportedly struck a submerged liquid propane pipeline during dredging operations in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, causing the explosion that killed four people back in August.
The details were released in the NTSB’s preliminary report on the incident. The report did not contain a determination on probably cause or recommendations.
According to the NTSB, at about 8:05 a.m. on August 21, 2020, the US-flagged, non- propelled, 152-foot-long cutter-head suction dredge Waymon L. Boyd, reportedly struck a submerged 16-inch liquid propane pipeline during dredging operations adjacent to EPIC Corpus Christi Marine Terminal, located on the Inner Harbor of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel in Corpus Christi, Texas. A geyser of gas and water erupted adjacent to the vessel followed by an explosion and fire consumed the vessel and surrounding shoreline.
Several other vessels assisted the Waymon L. Boyd during dredging operations, including work boats, anchor barges, booster barges and a supply barge.
A total of 18 personnel employed by Orion Marine Group were working on the dredge and assist boats on the day of the accident. Four crewmembers died and six others suffered burns.
According to the NTSB, the fire aboard the dredge was extinguished by 4:10 p.m. local time, but it temporarily reignited at 8:30 p.m. before it was finally extinguished an hour later. The dredge sank overnight.
The NTSB said the damaged pipeline was a 16-inch liquid propane line operated by Enterprise Products Operating, LLC, and was installed in 1968. An underwater segment of the pipeline was in close proximity to the area where Orion Marine Group was conducting dredging operations. At the time of the accident, the Enterprise Products pipeline controller received a low-pressure alarm on pipeline TX219. Enterprise Products technicians subsequently closed valves upstream and downstream of the incident location to isolate the pipeline. The estimated release of propane from the pipeline was about 6,000 barrels.
Orion Marine Group released the following statement to gCaptain:
“With respect to the August 21, 2020 incident, although certain news articles and other sources of information have reported that the DredgeWaymon L. Boyd struck a pipeline resulting in an explosion, Orion would like to emphasize that the actual cause of the pipeline explosion is yet to be determined and an investigation remains ongoing, led by Federal authorities. This is consistent with the NTSB report, which is referenced and directly linked in the article.
Our thoughts, support and prayers remain with the crew of the Waymon L. Boyd and their families.”
The U.S. Coast Guard declared the accident a major marine casualty. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the lead federal agency for the safety investigation, with the Coast Guard, Orion Marine Group (owner/operator), Enterprise Products Operating, LLC (pipeline operator), the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Railroad Commission of Texas named as parties.
Investigators have now interviewed several of the surviving crewmembers and company personnel, and collected documents regarding the dredging operations, crew training, and pipeline marking and damage prevention requirements.
On August 24, an underwater inspection found evidence of mechanical damage and two wall breaches in the pipeline, according to the NTSB. The Waymon L. Boyd’s cutter dredge head has been recovered and is being transported to a secure location for examination. On-scene work will continue with the removal of the damaged pipeline for further examination and testing at NTSB’s laboratory, as well as interviews with additional crew and company officials.
The NTSB preliminary report did not provide any probable cause or recommendations.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story indicated that the NTSB determined that the Waymon L. Boyd struck a submerged pipeline. Rather, the NTSB indicated that the dredge only reportedly struck the pipeline, and there is still no determination on cause.
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