Kirby Inland Marine has agreed to pay $4.9 million in Clean Water Act civil penalties and to implement fleet-wide operational improvements to settle claims stemming from a 4,000-bbl. (168,000-gal.) oil spill in the Houston Ship Channel in March 2014, the Department of Justice and the Coast Guard announced Tuesday.
The March 22, 2014 accident involved the 607′ bulk carrier Summer Wind and the Kirby tow made up of two 300’x54’x12′ tank barges carrying fuel oil and the 78’x28′ towboat Miss Susan. The collision breached the hull of the forward tank barge in the Miss Susan tow and spilled approximately 168,000 gals. of bunker fuel into the Houston Ship Channel. The barges and towboat were owned by Kirby. Each barge had a capacity of 26,741-bbls. in six tanks. One of those tanks was ruptured in the accident. The bulk carrier was the property of Sea Galaxy Marine, Liberia, West Africa, when the accident occurred.
Approximately 160 miles of shoreline were oiled as a result of the spill, including sensitive marsh habitat, the national wildlife refuge on Matagorda Island, Mustang Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore, the Justice Department said. A full assessment of the injuries caused by the spill to marine and terrestrial natural resources is ongoing.
In addition to paying the civil penalties, Kirby agreed to make operational changes across its entire inland fleet. These remedial measures require Kirby to install enhanced navigational equipment on vessels, provide employee training on the new and enhanced equipment, provide additional navigation skills training, including a simulator-based exercise involving a scenario based on the 2014 incident, and improved operational practices such as entering complete tow dimensions in each vessel’s automatic identification systems before embarking on every transit.
As part of the settlement, Kirby also agreed to waive any liability limits under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 related to the incident at issue in this case.
“This settlement sends a clear message that vessel owners and operators have a responsibility to protect our waters, people and the environment from oil spills and those who violate that duty will be held accountable under the law,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden. “The remedial measures in this agreement will upgrade navigational equipment, provide employee training, and improve operational practices across an entire fleet of vessels.”