The U.S. Coast Guard is moving to take enforcement action against New York-based Bouchard Transportation Company after the company failed to comply with a recent captain of the port order related to the safety of one of its vessels anchored in Port Arthur, Texas.
The Coast Guard says the tugs Kim M. Bouchard and Danielle M. Bouchard and their associated barges have been anchored off Texas Point since mid-December with no known plans to move and crews unpaid since January, raising serious concerns over the safety of the vessels and well-being of the crews.
Captain Jacqueline Twomey, captain of the port of Port Arthur, issued captain of the port orders to both vessels on February 10 to resolve problems related to staffing and safety, or face stiff penalties and even prison.
Similar captain of the port orders were also sent to Bouchard vessels in New York and New Jersey and New Orleans.
The orders have effectively prevented Bouchard crews from abandoning the vessels, despite no guarantee of a paycheck.
According to a Coast Guard statement on Thursday, the COTP order against the Danielle M. Bouchard was “amended to require additional repairs or to be moored at a dock”, with Capt. Twomey granting a 3-day extension for Bouchard to meet the requirements. However, Bouchard has now failed to comply by the extended deadline of Sunday, and a second extension request has been denied, the Coast Guard said.
In accordance with the current captain of the port order, maximum civil penalties for Bouchard could include fines of $94,219 for each violation and a class D felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
The Coast Guard insists that the crews of the are not responsible for the penalties, rather it is the responsibility of Bouchard.
“Multiple Coast Guard men and women are in daily contact with crews remaining aboard both vessels to ensure they are safe and have adequate provisions,” the Coast Guard said Thursday. “Twomey visited both tugs Tuesday and expressed her gratitude to the professional mariners aboard who understand their responsibility to the waterways and are continuing to diligently stand their watch and weather the situation to the best of their abilities. She assured them the Coast Guard’s top priority is their safety and wellbeing. She also told them all related fines and penalties will not be directed at them, but rather at Bouchard Transportation Company,” the Coast Guard said.
Combined, the Kim M. Bouchard and Danielle M. Bouchard and their barges are carrying nearly 200,000 gallons of oil, gas and other potential pollutants.
“The Coast Guard expects vessel owners to proactively manage the safety of their vessels and ensure operators have sufficient resources to maintain compliance with applicable requirements, and it is our responsibility to the public, professional mariners, and the marine transportation system to hold companies accountable when safety demands it,” said Twomey.