Port’s top line boat has explosion

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 25, 2008

No foul play is suspected


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – It was only months ago that a major ceremony was held on the Port of South Louisiana dock at the Mississippi River, touting the state-of-the-art “PSL Responder” vessel.

The $1.5 million boat was providing the local port with the base operation for a top notch security vessel with the best surveillance equipment a river boat could have.

But the Responder was knocked out of commission this week when an explosion tore apart the back of the boat, fortunately with no one getting injured, but leaving the port without their special vessel for at least three months while repairs are sought.

The first questions about the explosion were involving the possibility of an intentional cause, but Port of South Louisiana Operations Director Mitch Smith made it clear that he did not believe that was the reason.

“At this point we have no suspicions of conspiracy or terrorism or anything like that. It seems apparent it was just an accident of some sort,” he said. “We are just very thankful no one was injured in the explosion.”

It did appear to be fortunate, indeed, that no one was injured since the boat is normally moored near the Reserve ferry and has as many as five people working on the boat at times. When the explosion occurred, the boat was docked and no one was on the vessel.

“We normally have a crew of three, but there can be as many as five who are there on the boat,” Smith said. “So it really was fortunate that no one was near when the explosion occurred.”

Dan Taillon, a marine supervisor for the port, was the closest to the explosion as he had apparently walked off the boat only 10 seconds before the explosion on Tuesday afternoon.

“I got a call about 1:45 in the afternoon on Tuesday from Dan and he told me ‘you need to get over here right away. The boat just exploded,’” Smith said.

The blast occurred in the stern area of the boat (the back), in what Smith called the steering compartment. It blew a large hole out the back of the boat while obviously creating serious damage to the entire rear of the boat. Budwine and Associates, a marine surveying company from St. Charles Parish, was brought in to conduct the investigation, and the boat will now be sent back to the manufacturer, Seaark, out of Monticello, Ark.

Smith said that there are several possibilities of things that might have caused the explosion, such as the batteries, fumes from fuel or an electrical spark, but no firm determination has been made about what actually was the reason.

“Believe it or not, explosions such as this are more common in newer boats,” Smith noted. “Older boats have all the kinks worked out, but if there are problems in newer ones, this kind of thing can happen.”

The boat is shared with four other boat authorities on the Mississippi River, but is based here in the River Region. Smith said that the boat will probably be out of commission for a minimum of three months.