Man Arrested After ‘Potential Explosive Devices’ Found On Three Ohio River Commercial Tows

A Marietta, Ohio, man was charged October 28 in connection with potential explosive devices found aboard three commercial tows between October 21 and October 26, the FBI confirmed. 

Nathaniel Blayn Becker, 42, of Marietta, Ohio, was charged with possession of one or more unregistered destructive devices, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. The criminal complaint alleges Becker purchased pipes and other relevant components of the suspected destructive devices from a Lowe’s store in Marietta on four separate occasions.

“The cooperation of Lowe’s was instrumental in Becker’s arrest, and I thank them for their assistance,” U.S. Attorney Will Thompson said. “I commend the many law enforcement agencies for their swift investigation leading to Becker’s arrest.”

FBI Agent Catherine Policicchio said Becker was arrested on October 27 as part of a joint operation between the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). None of the devices detonated, she said. 

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The ATF handled the investigation with the assistance of the Coast Guard, West Virginia State Police, FBI, Parkersburg Police Department, the Wood County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington County, Ohio, Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Joshua C. Hanks is handling the prosecution.

On October 21, the Coast Guard set up a safety zone from Mile 145 to Mile 151 on the Ohio River after a potential explosive device was reported to be found on a barge, said PA3 Riley Perkofski of the Coast Guard District 8 public affairs branch. The safety zone was  lifted later that day after the potential explosive was reportedly removed from the vessel. 

A Captain of the Port Sector Ohio Valley security alert gave more details, indicating that a crew member was making rounds on the underway commercial towing vessel operating on the Ohio River near St. Mary’s, W.Va., and discovered the device on the towing vessel’s lead open hopper barge. Law enforcement officers x-rayed the device and found it lacked certain components required to be active. 

On October 25, more potential explosive devices were reported found on a barge at 9:15 p.m., Perkofski said. The Ohio River was closed between Miles 170 and 174, then reopened at 2 a.m. October 26. The Captain of the Port alert said this incident took place on an underway commercial towing vessel on the Ohio River near Marietta, Ohio, and that while passing directly under the Interstate 77 bridge crew members heard metallic objects striking the vessel. They then found two suspected explosive devices on the bow of the towing vessel. Law enforcement responded, x-rayed the devices and rendered them harmless. 

In the third incident, additional potential explosive devices were located on a barge at 12 a.m. October 26, Perkofski said. The river was closed from Mile 175 to Mile 179. It was reopened at 5:20 a.m. October 27. WOWK television station of Huntington, W.Va., reported this incident took place on a Marathon Petroleum towboat that was downbound with fuel barges. The television station also quoted an undisclosed federal law enforcement source who described the devices as “pipe bomb-like” but added that they were possible “hoax devices.” 

The Captain of the Port alert reported the last incident was on an underway tow on the Ohio River at Mile 176.7 and that crew members discovered suspected explosive devices on a tank barge loaded with crude oil. Law enforcement officials responded, x-rayed the devices and rendered them harmless. 

Kentucky State Police said reports of a suspicious package on an Ohio River barge in Greenup County turned out to be unfounded as the package turned out to be a part for the barge. The discovery was made about 2:30 p.m. October 27 at Marathon Petroleum’s Siloam Fractionation Facility in South Shore.