OSHA Fines Shipbuilder $1.3M In Tug Explosion

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Federal authorities have fined shipbuilder VT Halter Marine $1.3 million for alleged violations related to a 2009 tug boat explosion that killed two workers at a facility on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company for more than three dozen alleged violations related to the explosion on Nov. 20, 2009.

The blast killed Dwight Monroe of Moss Point and Alex Caballera of Pascagoula while crews were cleaning a tank in the hull of the vessel and prepping it to be painted.

"This was a horrific and preventable situation. The employer was aware of the hazards and knowingly and willfully sent workers into a confined space with an explosive and toxic atmosphere," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said in a news release announcing the fine.

VT Halter Marine CEO Bill Skinner said Thursday the company will meet with OSHA officials to discuss the agency's findings. The company has 15 days from the issuance of the fine to request an informal meeting with OSHA or to contest the findings before a review commission.

"We have a good safety record. There's nothing more important than the safety of our employees. That's our greatest asset," Skinner told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

VT Halter Marine, a subsidiary of VT Systems based in Alexandria, Va., has three facilities and 1,600 employees on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Skinner said VT Halter Marine has a good safety record and had "never had a fatality" before the explosion.

"We'll sit down with OSHA and discuss the citations as we they see them," Skinner said. "Depending on the outcome of the informal conference, we'll go from there."

OSHA cited the company for 17 alleged willful violations and 11 alleged serious violations. Eight alleged "other-than-serious violations" were also cited.

Among problems OSHA cited was the company's alleged failure to keep workers from going into a confined space "where concentration of flammable vapors exceed the prescribed limits."

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