The night sky near Mobile, Alabama was illuminated with a burning reminder of the continued hazards of the maritime industry, and the need for the highest standards of safety.
As the nation’s news has been reporting the events of the BP trial stemming from historic levels of contamination, the Gulf Coast witnessed another explosion. On Wednesday night, fire erupted from two fuel barges in the Mobile River. A local resident described the sound as “like bombs going off.” Multiple explosions occurred over the ensuing hours as the blaze from the fiery vessels lighted the night and smoke billowed into the air. Three workers were critically burned, and the crewmembers of the ill-fated Carnival Triumph cruise ship moored nearby were evacuated.
Firefighters from Mobile and the Coast Guard battled the blaze for hours. By mid-morning, hazmat teams were examining the gasoline barges, owned by Houston’s Kirby Marine, to assess the contaminants.
It is easy to assume that, with twenty-first century technology, maritime transportation has become routine and its risks have been eliminated. However, the explosions and fires which destroyed these barges, along with the breakdown of the Carnival Triumph, remind us of the need to enforce maritime safety with the greatest rigor. Seaman and longshoremen daily face hazards posed by the weather, chemicals, and heavy equipment. Those hazards should not be heightened by poor maintenance or taking shortcuts to enhance profits. And the natural resources of the Gulf Coast should not be jeopardized by unsafe procedures used when exploring for oil. Maritime workers, oil field professionals, fishermen, local residents, and even cruise ship passengers deserve a safe and clean maritime industry. This will only occur when those who disregard proper standards are held responsible for the full cost of unsafe practices.