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Texas Tugboat Update: Bouchard Faces Possible Criminal Penalties for Defying Coast Guard Orders; Has Until Friday to Comply with Civil Orders

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Bouchard Transportation, facing financial distress, continued to defy Coast Guard orders to secure an unsafe barge located off the Texas coast, despite the Coast guard noting pointedly that the company officials may face criminal charges and up to six years in prison if they do not take action.

“Maximum civil penalties for the company may include fines of $94,219 for each violation and a class D felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000,” said a Coast Guard statement recently.

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Tug Barge Fire

The decision to press criminal charges would be referred to the Justice Department, a Coast Guard spokesman said today. The company has until Friday, March 6, to comply with civil penalties.

Many of the crew members — many of them unpaid — figuratively have been trapped on the barge since Thanksgiving and now have spent 90 days and more in the cramped confines. When they sought to leave recently, the Coast Guard ordered them to stay at their posts.

Unsafe barges and the tugs Kim M. Bouchard and Danielle M. Bouchard have been anchored off Texas Point since mid-December.

Said the Coast Guard statement recently:

“Capt. Jacqueline Twomey, captain of the port of Port Arthur, issued captain of the port orders to both vessels February 10 to resolve problems regarding staffing and safety. Danielle M. Bouchard’s order was amended to require additional repairs or to be moored at a dock. Twomey granted a 3-day extension to the order for the Danielle M. Bouchard at the company’s request, but the company failed to comply by the extended deadline of Sunday. She denied a second extension request.”

The Coast Guard said they are in close communication with the crew. Captain Twomey personally visited them last Tuesday, thanked them for keeping the tugs and barges safe. She also assured them that all related fines and penalties will not be directed at them, but rather at Bouchard Transportation Company.

Combined, the tugs and barges are carrying nearly 200,000 gallons of oil, gas and other potential pollutants.

“The Coast Guard expects vessel owners to proactively manage the safety of their vessels and ensure operators have sufficient resources to maintain compliance with applicable requirements, and it is our responsibility to the public, professional mariners, and the marine transportation system to hold companies accountable when safety demands it,” said Twomey.

Bouchard has not returned calls or emails. The company is facing financial difficulties after a crackdown on their barge fleet, which the Coast Guard found to contain numerous dangerously unsafe vessels. The company was faulted by the National Transportation Safety Board for a poor safety culture after a barge exploded off the Texas Coast in 2017.