NTSB reports on Mobile barge fire and explosions

NTSB reports on Mobile barge fire and explosions U.S. Coast Guard photo

AUGUST 7, 2014 — The National Transportation Board has determined the probable cause of the April 2013 fire and explosions aboard a towing vessel and two barges that were having their tanks cleaned at the Oil Recovery Company (ORC) facility in Mobile, AL.

"On April 24, 2013, at 2030 local time, the towing vessel Safety Runner docked on the Mobile River in Mobile, Alabama, alongside two Kirby barges that were having their tanks cleaned. Shortly thereafter, flammable vapors being vented from the barges' open tank hatches entered the Safety Runner's engine room and exploded," says an NTSB Marine Accident Briefing (MAB-14-13). "The fire spread from the towing vessel to the barges, resulting in explosions. Three persons sustained serious burn injuries. The total damage to the vessel and barges was estimated at $5.7 million."

The NTSB determines that the probable cause of the fire and explosions was the failure of the ORC Facility to isolate tank-cleaning operations from sources of ignition. Contributing to the accident was ORC's failure to provide its employees with tank-cleaning training and procedures that followed industry standards and government regulations for reducing the risk of fire during tank-cleaning operations.

"Investigators found evidence of inadequate management oversight by ORC, including employing a barge PIC [Person in Charge] without proper credentials, and not having an operations manual that specifically addressed tank cleaning operations at the ORC Facility," says the Marine Accident Briefing. "Instead, ORC used an operations manual intended only for mobile facilities, such as vacuum trucks and tankers. Further, in that manual, ORC had attached pages from the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT) that described only what procedures ought to be contained in operations manuals, rather than writing its own procedures specific to the risks associated with tank-cleaning operations at the ORC Facility. The manual did not address hazards associated with motor vessels—full of ignition sources—docking alongside barges during tank-cleaning operations."