Apr 04, 2004

$10M Fine in Massachusetts Oil Spill

The owners of a barge that leaked tens of thousands of gallons of oil along the Massachusetts coast plead guilty to two criminal charges and will pay a $10 million fine – the state's largest ever – under a plea agreement announced last week.

Bouchard Transportation Co. of Hicksville, N.Y., recently reached the agreement in the criminal investigation of the April 2003 spill that killed 450 birds, shut down thousands of acres of shellfish beds and affected nearly 90 miles of Massachusetts coastline.

Owned and operated by Bouchard, the tugboat Evening Tide was towing a barge loaded with more than 4 million gallons of a thick fuel oil.

The boat veered off course and the barge struck a series of rocks in Buzzards Bay, ripping a 12-foot hole in the bottom and rupturing one of its 10 oil tanks.

Bouchard agreed to plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan.

Documents allege that the company's mate in charge of the tugboat allowed it to drift off course when he left the wheelhouse for an extended period of time to work at the stern.

The company has already accepted responsibility for the cleanup costs and paid more than $38 million toward the effort – a figure expected to rise as scientists learn more about the long-term damage to wildlife.

A month before the oil spill, the same mate caused a barge to collide with a dock in Philadelphia, according to the criminal charge. In that instance, no oil was spilled but the dock was damaged.

The name of the mate was not included in the plea agreement and was not released by the prosecutor's office.