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Tanker Captain Blames Tugboat for Mississippi River Oil Spill

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A tugboat towing an oil laden barge was to blame for the Mississippi River oil spill, the captain of another vessel said at a hearing yesterday. The hearing, which resumes today in New Orleans, is trying to determine blame for the oil spill. Once the hearing concludes, the Coast Guard will work on issuing a final report, which could recommend taking action against the parties found to be responsible for the oil spill. Those consequences could range from fines to criminal charges.

Captain Jan Stefan Bjarve testified yesterday that just before the collision, the Mel Oliver, towing a barge loaded down with 419,000 gallons of oil, unexpectedly turned into the path of his tanker, the Tintomara. Bjarve was piloting the Tintomara, along with Louisiana river pilot Chester Gould, at the time of the oil spill. Bjarve told the hearing that the Tintomara had begun its trip down the Mississippi at midnight. He described the evening as being “calm”, and said the weather was pleasant. But at 1:30 a.m. the Mel Oliver suddenly veered into the path of the Tintomara. Bjarve said the Mel Oliver did not signal the turn, nor did vessel traffic controllers issue any warnings.

Bjarve said he tried to warn the Mel Oliver repeatedly of the impending danger, but got no response. The Coast Guard played radio transmission recordings from that night that back up Bjarve’s claims that he tried desperately to warn the Mel Oliver without success.

Under questioning, Bjarve admitted that he did not order the Tintomara to anchor once he became aware of the danger. Bjarve said that he was concerned that, because of the tanker’s massive size and speed, anchoring quickly might only make things worse.

The Mississippi River oil spill hearing is set to resume today.Gilberto Guevarro, the Tintomara’s lookout and anchor watch, is scheduled to testify.

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