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Press Release

Kirby Inland Marine to Pay $4.9 Million in Civil Penalties and Provide Fleet-Wide Improvements to Resolve U.S. Claims for Houston Ship Channel Oil Spill

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
Coast Guard’s and Department of Justice’s Enforcement Action Addresses March 2014 Oil Spill from Kirby Oil Barge Involved in Collision with Cargo Ship

Kirby Inland Marine L.P. has agreed to pay $4.9 million in Clean Water Act civil penalties and to implement fleet-wide operational improvements to settle claims stemming from a 4,000-barrel (168,000-gallon) oil spill in the Houston Ship Channel in March 2014, the Department of Justice and the Coast Guard announced today.  

In its complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas along with the notice of lodging of a consent decree, the United States alleges that Kirby is liable under the Clean Water Act for the oil spill.  The spill occurred on March 22, 2014, when a Kirby tow boat, the Miss Susan, was pushing two 300-foot oil barges in the “Texas City Y” area of the Houston Ship Channel in fog conditions.  Despite detecting the nearby presence of a 585-foot bulk cargo ship, the Summer Wind, traveling up the Houston Ship Channel, Kirby’s tow boat and barges tried to cross the channel in front of the cargo ship.  As a result, Kirby’s lead oil barge was struck by the cargo ship and approximately 4,000 barrels of heavy marine fuel oil spilled out of the barge into the waterway. From there, oil flowed out of the channel and spread down the Texas coastline.  Approximately 160 miles of shoreline were oiled as a result of the spill, including sensitive marsh habitat, the national wildlife refuge on Matagorda Island, Mustang Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore.  A full assessment of the injuries caused by the spill to marine and terrestrial natural resources is ongoing and will be addressed separately.

“This settlement sends a clear message that vessel owners and operators have a responsibility to protect our waters, people and the environment from oil spills and those who violate that duty will be held accountable under the law,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “The remedial measures in this agreement will upgrade navigational equipment, provide employee training, and improve operational practices across an entire fleet of vessels.” 

“This case illustrates the inherent risk in transporting oil and other chemicals along our waterways,” said Eighth Coast Guard District Commander, Rear Adm. David Callahan. “The Coast Guard remains committed to enforcement, prevention and response with regards to our nation's waterways and natural resources.”

In addition to payment of the civil penalties, Kirby in the consent decree commits to improve its operations across its entire fleet of hundreds of vessels operating in the inland waters of the United States.  These remedial measures require Kirby to install enhanced navigational equipment on vessels, provide employee training on the new and enhanced equipment, provide additional navigation skills training, including a simulator-based exercise involving a Texas City Y scenario and improved operational practices such as entering complete tow dimensions in each vessel’s automatic identification systems before embarking on every transit.  As part of the settlement, Kirby also agrees to waive any limits on its liability under the Oil Pollution Act related to the oil spill incident at issue in this case.

The remedial measures and the penalties to be paid by Kirby under the consent decree are in addition to the costs the company has already incurred or will incur to clean up the oil spill, reimburse federal and State response efforts, compensate victims of the oil spill and compensate the public for injuries to natural resources.

Section 311(b) of the Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge oil or hazardous substances into or upon the navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to the environment or public health.  The penalty paid for this spill will be deposited in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund managed by the National Pollution Funds Center.  The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is used to pay for federal response activities and to compensate for damages when there is a discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines.

The proposed consent decree, lodged in the Southern District of Texas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at

Updated April 5, 2024

Press Release Number: 16-1103