ExxonMobil Sued|for Fatal Barge Fire

     CHICAGO (CN) – A barge owner blames ExxonMobil for an explosion of 25,000 barrels of contaminated, volatile crude oil that killed a crewmember and contaminated the Chicago Ship Canal.
     Egan Marine Corp. sued ExxonMobil on June 24 in Cook County Court.
     After the massive explosion killed tugboat crewmember Alexander Oliva in January 2005, the federal government sued Egan Marine for more than $1.5 million, claiming an improperly opened valve on the barge caused the oil vapors to ignite and explode.
     Egan Marine sought dismissal of the government’s 2008 lawsuit and filed a third-party complaint against Exxon, claiming it caused the explosion by contaminating the oil with more than 10,000 gallons of more volatile gasoline.
     U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber refused to dismiss the government’s complaint and dismissed Egan’s lawsuit on Aug. 9, 2011.
     In the new lawsuit, Egan Marine cites Exxon’s “long-term written contract” with Apex Oil Co., in which Exxon agreed to buy clarified slurry oil (CSO), a volatile byproduct of refining crude oil into gasoline and other petroleum products.
     Apex “orally contracted” with Egan to transport three barge loads of that CSO from Exxon’s Joliet refinery through the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal to a storage facility at the Ameropan Oil Corp. near California Avenue in Chicago, the complaint states.
     Egan says the first two loads were safely delivered in January 2005. But on Jan. 18 that year the third barge exploded, wrecking EMC 423, damaging an Egan tugboat, the Lisa E, and “propelling debris onto the Cicero Avenue Bridge over the canal and surrounding areas.”
     Oliva was killed on the tugboat.
     The barge sank and some of its oil spilled.
     Egan claims that Exxon “knew or should have known that the EMC 423 had been loaded with a cargo that was far more volatile than ordinary uncontaminated CSO,” but failed to warn Egan.
     It claims that Exxon also knew but failed to disclose that the cargo was “illegal for transportation as a Grade E product”: a combustible liquid with a flashpoint of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
     The light hydrocarbons “rendered the cargo far more dangerous, unstable, and explosive than plaintiff and its employees expected,” Egan says.
     It seeks damages for negligence and failure to warn.
     Egan is represented by Thomas Cronin of Chicago and its general David Anderson, of Lemont, Ill.
     ExxonMobil did not respond to a request for comment.

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