LAFITTE, La. – A tug boat pushing an oil barge struck a gas pipeline in a bayou south of New Orleans on Tuesday night, igniting a blaze that burned for hours and left four people injured, one severely.
Ensign Tanner Stiehl told The Associated Press the collision occurred at about 6 p.m. Central on Bayou Perot, in a marshy area near where Lafourche and Jefferson parishes meet, about 30 miles south of New Orleans.
The tugboat and barge were engulfed in flames, and heavy smoke billowed from the scene.
“All crew members were able to exit the tug; the captain reportedly suffered second to third-degree degree burns,” the Coast Guard said in a news release early Wednesday.
WWL-TV reported that all four people on the vessel were accounted for, but that one person was severely burned and was treated at West Jefferson Medical Center. The station reported the person, identified as the captain of the tug, was transferred to the burn centre at Baton Rouge General Hospital.
Stiehl said the pipeline is owned by San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron. It was in shallow water and had liquid petroleum gas in it.
He said the company has isolated the pipeline from other mains, “so only whatever was in the pipeline will be able to burn.”
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, who represents the area, told WWL-TV that the fire was in very shallow water, as little as a foot deep, and that authorities would not approach the site until the fire had burned itself out.
Stiehl identified the 47-foot tug boat as the Shanon E. Settoon. Settoon Towing of Pierre Part, La., lists the tug boat among its vessels on its website.
He said the barge was carrying oil and “there have been reports of oil in the water.” The Coast Guard said ES&H has been hired to handle the oil spill response.
It was not immediately known who owns the 154-foot oil barge.
The area is thinly populated and no evacuations have been ordered, the Coast Guard spokesman said.
“We are aggressively responding with our state and local partners to mitigate the fire and prevent any potential impacts from oil that entered the water, ” said Cmdr. Russ Bowen, incident commander, Sector New Orleans.
The area is along the northern reaches of Barataria Bay, which was heavily affected by oil from the BP spill in 2010. It is mostly small communities where people often make their living from the sea, either working in the oil and gas industry or as fishermen.
The region is criss-crossed by pipelines and wellheads are a common sight in the shallow waters of the bayou and bay shoreline.
Bayou Perot was the scene of an explosion and fire on a specialized oil rig in December 2010 in which three men were injured. The explosion happened while the men were welding and there was no pollution, the Coast Guard reported.