A dredge crew escaped without injury Tuesday night after the vessel struck a natural gas pipeline near Port O’Connor, Texas, igniting a fire that burned for hours, according to Coast Guard officials.
The 80’x26’x5.5’ cutter suction dredge Jonathon King Boyd, operated by RLB Contracting Inc., Port Lavaca, Texas, was working in the ship channel when it struck the Genesis Energy pipeline around 8:14 p.m., according to the Coast Guard and local emergency officials.
Watchstanders at the Coast Guard Sector and Air Station Corpus Christi received a mayday call from the dredge crew reporting the vessel was on fire
A 29’ response boat crew headed to the scene as an HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft and MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew were launched from Corpus Christi.
The 10 members of the dredge crew were rescued by a Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company vessel, the 38.9’x14.8’x7’ tug First State, that was on scene when the fire erupted, Coast Guard officials said. The pipeline was secured and residual gas gradually burned off, but the fire continued into the night fed by diesel fuel on the barge, Port O’Connor fire Chief Nathan O’Neill told the Victoria Advocate.
A four-mile safety zone was established around the scene, and reduced to 1 mile by 2 p.m. Wednesday after the fire had been extinguished. The Port Lavaca Fire Department and a firefighting barge remained on scene, guarding against the potential for re-flashing. The Intracoastal Waterway was closed to traffic from mile marker 468 to mile marker 474, including the Matagorda Ship Channel from the jetties to seven nautical miles inside the bay.
A unified command was established between the Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office and RLB Contracting to extinguish the vessel fire and move the dredge and its accompanying barges away from the ship channel. Horizon Environmental placed booms around the dredge as a precaution against potential spills, and Coast Guard officials said they were working to reopen the waterway.
Late Wednesday Coast Guard officials reported T&T Marine Salvage personnel had confirmed the fire onboard the dredge was fully extinguished. At mid-afternoon Thursday, the dredge had been moved to an RLB Contracting facility at Port Lavaca to remove fuel and complete a damage assessment. Divers were preparing to assess damage to secure and repair the pipeline.
“We’re very sensitive of the dredge location and ensuring it remains clear of all vulnerable wildlife areas and Port O’Connor,” Capt. Tony Hahn, the commander at Sector Corpus Christi, in a statement early Wednesday morning. “Our top priority is extinguishing the fire so we may eliminate any threat of pollution to the waterway.” By Thursday morning no signs of sheens or pollution had been detected.