Egan Marine blaming Exxon Mobil for fatal 2005 explosion

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Egan Marine Corporation is suing Exxon Mobil for a fatal 2005 explosion that killed its employee — the same week Egan’s former tugboat captain was sentenced to six months in prison for the same incident.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court, named Exxon Mobil Corporation, Exxon Mobil Oil Corporation and Exxon employee Irving Francis Holm, Jr. as defendants.

The explosion on Jan. 19, 2005, killed 29-year-old Alex Oliva and flooded the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal with 600,000 gallons of oil.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced Capt. Dennis Michael Egan, 40, to six months in prison for negligent manslaughter, saying Egan illegally allowed Oliva to use the naked flame of a propane blowtorch on their barge.

But in its lawsuit, Egan Marine claims it was transporting contaminated oil from Exxon Mobil, leading to the explosion.

Egan Marine was contracted that January to carry Exxon’s oil from Joliet Refinery to Ameropan Oil Corporation. It had already carried two loads of oil that week without any issues, according to the suit.

The suit claims that the night before the explosion, Holm found a problem with one of the tanks at the refinery. He authorized loading Egan’s boat with oil from multiple tanks instead of just one, making the cargo “far more volatile” than an ordinary supply, the suit claims.

Egan claims Exxon should have known the oil was more dangerous. The explosion happened about 6 a.m. the next day during the transport.

A spokesman for Exxon said the company had no comment Friday night.

Egan Marine’s two-count suit claims strict liability and negligence and is asking for more than $100,000 in damages.

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