Barge Captain And Marine Company Convicted In Fatal 2005 Explosion That Discharged Slurry Oil In Chicago Canal
CHICAGO — The captain of a petroleum barge that exploded in 2005, resulting in the death of a crew member, and the company that owned and operated the vessel were convicted today on federal charges of felony maritime negligence and causing thousands of gallons of oil to pollute the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The defendants, DENNIS MICHAEL EGAN and EGAN MARINE CORP., were found guilty following a bench trial that was conducted intermittently since last September in U.S. District Court.
Egan, 35, of Topeka, Ill., and formerly of Lemont, and Egan Marine, of Lemont, were each convicted of one count of negligent manslaughter of a seaman and one count of oil pollution of a navigable waterway. The verdict was delivered in an oral ruling from the bench by U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who heard closing arguments on Friday, concluding 13 nonconsecutive days of trial.
Judge Zagel tentatively set sentencing for Sept. 24.
The negligent manslaughter count against Dennis Egan carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the same count against Egan Marine carries a maximum penalty of five years’ probation and a $500,000 fine. The misdemeanor oil pollution count carries a maximum penalty against Dennis Egan of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, while Egan Marine faces a maximum sentence of a year’s probation and a $200,000 fine. Both defendants face a minimum fine of $2,500 on the pollution count. Restitution is mandatory. The Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The verdict was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Neal R. Marzloff, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, Central Region in Cleveland; and Randall Ashe, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago.
According to the evidence at trial and court records, on Jan. 19, 2005, a fully-loaded Egan Marine tank barge, known as the EMC-423, being pushed by the tow boat Lisa E, was transporting approximately 600,000 gallons of clarified slurry oil (CSO) from the ExxonMobil Oil Corp. refinery near Joliet to the Ameropan Oil Corp. facility near the canal and California Avenue in Chicago. CSO is a byproduct of petroleum refining that can also be used as fuel, among other uses. About 4:40 p.m., just after clearing the Cicero Avenue Bridge and heading northeast parallel to the I-55 Stevenson Expressway, a large explosion erupted on the barge. As a result, the EMC-423 sank, discharging thousands of gallons of the combustible heavy oil into the canal. Immediately after the blast, crewman Alexander Oliva, 29, who had been aboard the barge, was determined to be missing. His body was recovered from the canal near Laramie Avenue on Feb. 4, 2005.
Judge Zagel ruled that Oliva’s death resulted from the explosion and the negligence that created the explosion. Egan Marine and its employees negligently vented combustible vapors from the cargo hold of the barge to the deck of the vessel, causing an explosion hazard. Oliva was using a propane-fueled open flame from a handheld “rosebud torch” to heat a cargo pump on the barge deck. CSO hardens in cold temperatures, requiring the cargo pump to be heated to offload the oil at its destination. The use of an open flame to heat the pump near the vented vapors caused the explosion and, ultimately, Oliva’s death, the destruction of the barge, and the oil pollution of the canal.
Dennis Egan was the captain and pilot of the Lisa E and the EMC-423 barge, which had no crew, self-propulsion or navigation system of its own. Dennis Egan was negligent and inattentive to his duties on the vessels by allowing an open flame to be used on the deck of the EMC-423, which was loaded with 599,424 gallons of the slurry oil. Egan Marine, which owned both vessels, was negligent in allowing the use of the open flame aboard the barge, resulting in the explosion and Oliva’s death.
“Without question it is against Coast Guard regulations, the standard of care, and is downright reckless, to employ the use of a propane torch on top of 600,000 gallons of a petroleum by-product,” the government claimed in closing argument brief.
Both Dennis Egan and Egan Marine violated the oil pollution provisions of the federal Clean Water Act by negligently causing the discharge of thousands of gallons of oil into the canal, which is a navigable U.S. waterway.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Chapman and Matthew Hiller and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Crissy Pellegrin, of the U.S. EPA’s Office of Regional Counsel for Region 5 in Chicago.