Recently, a towing vessel anchored next to two Kirby barges at the Oil Recovery Company Gas Freeing Terminal (ORC), unaware that the barges were being cleared of residual diesel, sparked a fire that spread to the barges and finally resulted in explosions. Three sustained serious burn injuries.
How Did This Explosion Happen at an ORC Facility?
An employee told investigators that an air hose disconnected from one of the fans onboard and caused the fan to malfunction. He recalled that the Person in Charge (PIC) shut off power to the fans before they investigated the malfunction. However, while the PIC examined the fan, the captain pulled his vessel into the facility to drop off a radio technician.
Unfortunately, the main diesel engine was fueled by tank vapors, which had entered the air intakes. The captain tried to shut down the engines from the pilothouse but failed. Two deckhands then activated the engine’s emergency shutdowns on the vessel’s main deck, but the engines still did not shut down.
Flames shot along both sides of the towing vessel and onto the barges, resulting in several explosions. The crews sounded their general alarms.
What Could Prevent Explosions at ORC Refueling Stations?
At the center of this incident are poor operations manuals and uncertified personnel.
Investigators found evidence of inadequate management oversight, including employing a barge PIC without proper credentials and not having an operations manual that addressed tank cleaning at the facility. Instead, ORC used a manual intended only for mobile facilities like vacuum trucks and tankers.
That manual only described what procedures ought to be contained in operations manuals, rather than any specific procedures about the risks associated with tank-cleaning operations.
The NTSB says that the probable cause of the fire and explosions was the ORC’s failure to isolate tank-cleaning operations from fire hazards and to provide its employees with tank-cleaning training and procedures.
When a company skimps on documentation, concerned with compliance rather than safety, it puts its employees in harm’s way. If you or someone you know has been injured by a similar negligent practice, contact an experienced maritime attorney.
Latti & Anderson LLP – Nationwide Maritime Attorneys