About 1155 central daylight time on Thursday, October 12, 2006, the uninspected towing vessel Miss Megan was pushing two deck barges in the West Cote Blanche Bay oil field in Louisiana, en route to a pile-driving location. Barge Athena 106 was tied along the port side of barge IBR 234. The Miss Megan was secured astern of IBR 234, pushing both barges. The Miss Megan was crewed by a licensed master and a deckhand. The construction barge had six workers on board, consisting of one foreman, one crane operator, and four barge hands. While the vessels were under way, the aft spud (a 5-ton steel shaft used as a mooring device) on the Athena 106 released from its fully raised position. The spud dropped into the water and struck a submerged, buried high-pressure natural gas pipeline. The resulting gas release ignited and created a fireball that engulfed the towing vessel and both barges. The master of the towing vessel was killed, along with four barge workers. The Miss Megan deckhand and one barge worker survived. One barge worker is officially listed as missing.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was Athena Construction's failure to require its crews to pin the spuds securely in place on its barges, which allowed the sudden, unintentional release of the Athena 106's aft spud, rupturing a buried pipeline and causing natural gas to surface and ignite. Contributing to the accident was the failure of Central Boat Rentals to require, and of the Miss Megan master to ensure, that the barge spuds were securely pinned before getting under way.
The Safety Board's investigation of this accident identified the following safety issues:
- Failure to use safety devices.
- Limited oversight of vessels not subject to inspection.
As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, Athena Construction, and Central Boat Rentals.
As a result of its investigation of the Athena 106 accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following new safety recommendations:
To the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:
Review and update your memorandum of understanding with the Coast Guard to specifically address your respective oversight roles on vessels that are not subject to Coast Guard inspection. (M-07-4)
Direct the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH) to issue the following documents to the maritime industry: (1) a fact sheet regarding the accident, and (2) a guidance document regarding the need to secure the gear on barges, including spud pins, before the barges are moved, and detailing any changes to your memorandum of understanding with the Coast Guard. (M-07-5)
To the U. S. Coast Guard:
Finalize and implement the new towing vessel inspection regulations and require the establishment of safety management systems appropriate for the characteristics, methods of operation, and nature of service of towing vessels. (M-07-6) (Supersedes M-00-10)
Review and update your memorandum of understanding with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to specifically address your respective oversight roles on vessels that are not subject to Coast Guard inspection. (M-07-7)
To Athena Construction and Central Boat Rentals:
Develop procedures and provide initial and recurrent training to the employees on your barges to use the securing pins to hold spuds safely in place before transiting from one site to another. (M-07-8)
Previously Issued Recommendations Classified in This Report
To the U. S. Coast Guard:
Seek authority to require domestic towing companies to develop and implement an effective safety management system to ensure adequate management oversight of the maintenance and operation of all towing vessels.
Safety Recommendation M-00-10 (previously classified as "Open-Acceptable Response) is classified as "Closed-Acceptable Action/Superseded" in the "Limited Oversight of Vessels Not Subject to Inspection" section of this report.