Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc. and three former and current management officials from the Long Island-based petroleum barge company have paid $375,000 in restitution to the brother of one of two seamen killed in a 2017 barge explosion off Port Aransas, Texas.
The seaman alleged the company fired him for cooperating with investigators and reporting safety concerns to the U.S. Coast Guard following the deadly blast on board Buster Bouchard/B. No. 255. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) later found that the incident likely stemmed from a lack of effective maintenance and safety management.
Investigators for U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Programs found that the employers’ actions constituted retaliation against the seaman for protected activity under the Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA) and would dissuade a seaman from reporting safety issues. Reporting alleged violations of maritime safety laws and regulations, cooperating with safety investigations and furnishing information to the Coast Guard about facts related to any marine casualty resulting in death are protected activities under the SPA.
“Employers and vessel owners must know and respect that, under the Seaman’s Protection Act, seamen have the right to report safety concerns and cooperate with the U.S. Coast Guard and other safety investigators,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson in New York. “Failure to recognize these rights can instill a culture of intimidation that could lead to disastrous or deadly consequences for workers.”
In addition to the payment, Bouchard Transportation and the individual respondents agreed to take other remedial actions in a settlement agreement with OSHA to resolve violations of the whistleblower protection provisions of the SPA.
Under the agreement, the company must remove any reference to the seaman’s termination and exercising of his rights under the SPA from their files, and provide a neutral reference if contacted by any prospective employer. The employer must also train its managers and employees about seamen’s SPA rights and post a Notice to Seamen about their rights under the SPA.
“This agreement underscores the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to pursuing necessary and effective legal remedies to protect and preserve a worker’s right to a safe and healthful work environment,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff in New York. “Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc.’s disregard for worker safety is unacceptable.”
In September 2020, Bouchard Transportation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following several years of legal and financial difficulties. In the years since the fatal explosion, Bouchard Transportation has been sued by dozens of vendors alleging unpaid bills, many of which remain unresolved.
Last month, a bankruptcy judge in Houston ordered fourth generation leader of the family-owned company Morton S. Bouchard, III to step down from his role as chief executive officer.
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