Postponed Mississippi River Oil Spill Hearing Scheduled to Begin Again Today

Yesterday’s hearing into the <"">Mississippi River oil spill was postponed shortly after it began. The Coast Guard stopped the proceeding after lawyers for DRD Towing, the owner of a tugboat involved in the incident, asked for more time to examine exhibits slated to be presented at the hearing.

The only new information to come out of the hearing yesterday was the list of people named in the oil spill investigation. They include John Bavaret, the apprentice mate who was piloting the tugboat Mel Oliver when it collided with the tanker Tintomara. Bavaret did not have the proper license to pilot a tugboat. Terry Carver, master license pilot of the Mel Oliver was also on the list. Carver should have been in charge of the vessel but was nowhere to be found when the accident occurred.

The hearing is scheduled to begin again this morning, with the Coast Guard saying it expects the proceeding to last between two and three days.

The Mississippi River oil spill occurred on July 23 when the Tintomara and the barge being towed by the Mel Oliver collided. The barge, carrying 419,000 gallons of fuel oil – split in half, spilling much its cargo into the river.

It is estimated that about 250,000 gallons of oil actually spilled into the Mississippi. The busy river channel was closed for six days to allow for cleanup of the spill. Even now, ships must move slowly to avoid disrupting the continuing cleanup.

According to radio transmissions released by the Coast Guard, it is apparent that 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.

American Commercial Lines, the owner of the barge, has taken responsibility for the clean-up of the oil spill, but not the collision that caused it. Because American Commercial Lines denies responsibility for the collision, the company has said that it plans to seek protection from oil spill lawsuits that name it as a defendant.

Once today’s hearing is over, the Coast Guard could officially assign blame for the accident. According to the New Orleans Time-Picayune, the Coast Guard has been in discussions with the U.S. Justice Department, but will not recommend any charges against the crew members or companies involved in the oil spill until its investigation is complete.

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