UPDATED Oct. 23, 2017

The Coast Guard suspended its search for two crewmembers offshore of Port Aransas, Texas, Saturday evening.

The two men went missing after the forward section of a barge they were on exploded and caught fire Friday morning, three miles off the jetties of Port Aransas.

The Coast Guard completed a comprehensive search for the two unaccounted crewmembers on Friday and Saturday. Multiple oil discharge recovery and Coast Guard assets are still on scene in the vicinity of the barge that continue to maintain a vigilant watch for the men.

The Coast Guard is ready to resume the search upon receiving any new information on the status or location of the two men.

“We want to convey our deepest condolences to the families of the two crewmembers,” said Capt. Tony Hahn, sector commander of Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi. “Our crews performed an exhaustive search and will continue to remain vigilant and monitor the area closely.”

The captain of the 127’x37’x20’, 6,140-hp tugboat Buster Bouchard sent a mayday call at 4:35 a.m. Friday picked up by Coast Guard watchstanders at Corpus Christi, reporting that barge B. No. 255 was on fire and two crewmembers unaccounted for, according to Coast Guard officials. Six other crew were safe, the Coast Guard said.

The vessels operated by Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc., Melville, N.Y., were three miles off the Aransas Pass jetties when the fire broke out. A 45’ response boat from the Port Aransas Coast Guard station was launched, while a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew lifted off from Corpus Christi.

The barge B. No. 255 on fire three miles from the Port Aransas, Texas, jetties Oct. 20, 2017. Coast Guard photo.

The barge B. No. 255 on fire three miles from the Port Aransas, Texas, jetties Oct. 20, 2017. Coast Guard photo.

A 1,000-yard safety zone was set up around the barge to control vessel traffic as the fire burned. The Port of Corpus Christi fireboat, firefighters from Port Aransas and other local agencies fought the fire, which was extinguished during the day. A watch was set by local firefighters to guard against re-ignition overnight into Saturday, while a unified command with the Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office and a representative for Bouchard continued to manage the incident.

A search continued into Friday night for the two missing crewmembers, the Coast Guard said. Some 2,000’ of pollution booms were set to guard against any spill of the133,000 bbls. of crude oil the barge carried inbound to Corpus Christi. Another 6,000’ of boom were staged on scene if needed to protect environmentally sensitive areas.

The entrance and jetty channels leading to the Corpus Christi ship channel from Harbor Island to offshore were closed to prevent any spread of discharged oil into the port and to “safely facilitate cleanup operations,” Coast Guard officials said Friday night. The Lydia Ann channel and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway remained open, with the 1,000-yard safety zone remaining in effect around the barge.

Coast Guard Capt. Jason Smith, the Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi acting sector commander, credited the actions of local responders to the fire. “We are very appreciative to the Aransas-Corpus Christi Pilot Association, Port of Corpus Christi, and maritime community who have supported the efforts to extinguish the fire, contain the discharge and search for the missing crewmembers,” said Smith.



Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.