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More Revelations About Tugboat Company Involved in Mississippi River Oil Spill

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The company that owned the tugboat involved in last week’s Mississippi River oil spill had a spotty safety record and failed an audit in May.

The barge responsible for the oil spill was being pushed by the tugboat the Mel Oliver, owned by DRD Towing out of Harvey, Louisiana. Last week, the US Coast Guard determined that no one on the Mel Oliver had the proper licensing for piloting a tugboat. The operator on the Mel Oliver at the time of the collision had only an apprentice mate’s license, and no one else on the barge had a license. To legally pilot a tugboat, an operator is required to have a master’s license.

Now it turns out that the pilot of the Ruby E., another DRD tugboat that sank on the Mississippi River on July 18th just four miles from last week’s collision was also being piloted by an apprentice mate. Three days ago, the Coast Guard had said that the Ruby E.’s crew was properly licensed, but has since issued a correction.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, DRD Towing had also failed a May safety audit and faces probation or revocation from the American Waterways Organization, a national trade association for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry.

The Mississippi River oil spill occurred when a 600-foot tanker and a barge loaded with fuel collided. The spill occurred about 1:30 a.m. central time last Wednesday near the Crescent City Connection, a pair of New Orleans bridges. The barge split in half, spilling more than 419,000 gallons of tar-like oil into the river.

The sunken barge is still leaking oil into the Mississippi River. The Coast Guard is working on a plan to remove the remaining oil from the barge, so that it can be removed from the river. Removal of the barge is at least several days away.

While the Mississippi River is expected to open to traffic today, cleanup of the spill is far from over. So far, only 72,000 gallons out of the more than 400,000 spilled have been cleaned up. It could be weeks before the cleanup is completed

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