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Coast Guard Resumes Mississippi River Oil Spill Hearing

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After a two month break, a Coast Guard hearing into the July 23 Mississippi River oil spill is scheduled to resume today. While the Coast Guard has not issued a witness list for the hearing, a spokesperson for the towing company involved in the oil spill told the “New Orleans Times-Picayune” that it is likely the Louisiana River pilot who was steering the tanker Tintomara during the accident will be called to testify.  Various officials from DRD Towing, the company staffing the tugboat involved in the spill, American Commercial Lines, owner of both the tug and the barge involved in the crash, as well as barge industry experts, are also expected to appear, the newspaper said.

The Mississippi River oil spill occurred on when the tanker  Tintomara and a barge -carrying 419,000 gallons of oil – being towed by the tuboat Mel Oliver collided. The barge split in half, spilling much of its cargo into the river. It is estimated that about 280,000 gallons of oil actually spilled into the Mississippi.  

The Coast Guard hearing into the spill began in August, but was postponed after hurricanes Ike and Gustave hit the Gulf Coast.  Among the witnesses who testified over a two-day period was the Tintomara’s captain Jan Stefan Bjarve.  He told the hearing that at 1:30 a.m. on June 23, 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.Bjarve’s account was backed up by radio transmissions released by the Coast Guard that showed the Mel Oliver received repeated warnings from both Coast Guard personnel and the pilot of the Tintomara to get out of the way in the minutes leading up to the crash. Unfortunately, no one on the Mel Oliver ever responded to the warnings.

At the time of the collision, the Mel Oliver was being piloted by John Bavaret, the ship’s apprentice mate.  Bavaret did not have the proper license to pilot a tugboat. Terry Carver, master license pilot of the Mel Oliver, should have been in charge of the vessel but was nowhere to be found when the accident occurred.  It is expected that both Bavaret and Carver will testify at the hearing.

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