News: Hearings Adjourn in Port Arthur
Story by Monica Leftwich
PORT ARTHUR, Texas - The Coast Guard adjourned the formal hearings March 11 concerning the Jan. 23 incident involving the tank vessel Eagle Otome, the Gull Arrow and the tug Dixie Vengeance. The incident resulted in more than 400,000 gallons of oil being spilled into the Sabine-Neches waterway. The formal hearing began Tuesday.
Mr. Eric Lewis, the Vessel Traffic Service watchstander, testified concerning his training, maritime experience, and the details of the displays and sensors he monitors as a watchstander. He also described his watch and the geographic area of the waterway he monitors. He testified he was aware of the Eagle Otome as one of a number of ships, tugs and other vessels transiting that day, but did not see anything about the transit of any vessels on the day of the incident to indicate they were having difficulty.
Mr. Evan Morrow, the VTS watch supervisor, testified as to his training, maritime experience and duties as a watch supervisor. He also stated that it was not possible to determine whether a vessel was under control merely because the vessel was close to the side of the channel based on what is displayed on the VTS displays.
Mr. Scott Whalen, the VTS Training Supervisor, testified concerning the mission of the VTS, the information in the regular broadcasts to all waterway users and navigation information available to mariners on request. Whalen also testified that captain of the port authority was needed in certain instances to provide specific traffic direction, close waterways or dictate areas where no meeting could take place.
Captain Charles Tweedel, the president of the Sabine Pilots Association, described the role of the association in maintaining the infrastructure to provide pilot services include maintaining and office, a dispatching service, a pilot station and maintaining and staffing pilot boats to take pilots out to ships off shore. The pilots are independent contractors to the ships for which they provide pilot services and though the Association participates as a member of the South East Texas Waterway Advisory Council (SETWAC), no pilot is required to follow the guidelines developed by that organization.
Mr. William Scott, the Chairman of the Jefferson and Orange County Board of Pilot Commissioners, testified as to the responsibilities of the board and his responsibilities as chairman. He also testified that the board investigates every complaint concerning a pilot and every marine casualty involving a pilot. Scott stated that the board has empaneled a seven-member panel to review this incident.
The purpose of this investigation is to develop conclusions and recommendations that will improve vessel and waterway safety. The facts collected at this hearing along with the lead investigator’s conclusions and recommendations will be forwarded to Coast Guard Eighth District in New Orleans and Coast Guard Headquarters for approval. Once approved, the final investigative report will be made available to the public and the media. No analysis or conclusions will be presented during the hearing. The National Transportation Safety Board will generate an independent report on this incident.