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Prison for La. man in 2008 Miss. River oil spill

January 19, 2011

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The co-owner of a company whose towboat was involved in a major oil spill that closed part of the Mississippi River for nearly a week was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle also ordered Randall Dantin, 46, of Marrero, to pay a $50,000 fine and ordered his company, DRD Towing Company LLC, to pay a $200,000 fine.

Dantin pleaded guilty last year to obstruction of justice for causing electronic payroll sheets to be deleted before the Coast Guard could review them. The company pleaded guilty to operating vessels with unqualified and overworked captains and to negligently discharging oil.

In July 2008, the DRD towboat Mel Oliver was pushing a tanker barge when it collided with a tanker ship. The barge spilled 283,000 gallons of fuel and closed part of the river near New Orleans for six days.

A Coast Guard probe found that John Paul Bavaret II, a sleep-deprived apprentice mate, was at the tug’s helm without a captain at his side, a violation of Coast Guard rules.

Bavaret, 41, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act and a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act. The safety act charge carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison and the clean water act violation is punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. His sentencing is set for April 27.

Ivan Vikin, special agent in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Louisiana, said DRD Towing has a history of operating undermanned vessels with unqualified workers.

“These sentences demonstrate our commitment to hold accountable those violators who damage the environment and, at the same time, endanger their workers by placing them in harm’s way,” he said in a statement.