Final Settlement In 2008 Mel Oliver Spill

A major barge line could be seeing the final act of a notorious collision that resulted in a major oil spill on the Mississippi River—13 years after it happened.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced October 4 that American Commercial Barge Line LLC has agreed to pay more than $6.6 million in penalties for a July 2008 oil spill in the Mississippi River that spread more than 100 miles downriver to affect New Orleans’ shorelines and more than 5,000 acres of shoreline habitat.

The agreement still needs the approval of a federal judge. If approved, it would be part of a federal consent decree that would settle civil lawsuits brought by the DOJ and the state of Louisiana over the incident that caused a six-day closure to river traffic from July 23–29, 2008.

On July 23, 2008, the tug mv. Mel Oliver was pushing tanker barge DM-932 upriver on the Mississippi River. DM-932 was carrying 419,286 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil. At the same time, the ocean-going mv. Tintomara was traveling downriver. As the Tintomara closed, Mel Oliver began a turn to port and crossed in front of the Tintomara, which struck barge DM-932, causing the release of an estimated 282,828 gallons of oil into the waters of the Mississippi River over a two-week period.

The company that operated the Mel Oliver on ACBL’s behalf, DRD Towing, went out of business. The captain of the mv. Mel Oliver was sentenced to three years of probation for absenting himself from the wheelhouse for personal reasons without informing his employer, leaving an unqualified helmsman at the wheel. An owner of DRD  Towing was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment and a $50,000 fine in a separate charge of obstruction of justice.

Under the current agreement’s terms, ACBL would purchase and preserve 649 acres of woodland wildlife habitat in upper Plaquemines Parish at an estimated cost of $3.25 million. 

The title for the property, known as the Woodlands Parcel, would be held by The Woodlands Conservancy, a local nonprofit that manages the property for recreational and educational use. The Woodlands Parcel would be forever limited to passive recreation, protecting the ecological benefits of the property.

ACBL would also pay $2.07 million in additional damages, on top of $1.32 million in damages it has already paid.