That's according to testimony in New Orleans on Thursday by the master pilot who should have been at the wheel of a tugboat that steered an oil barge into an oncoming ship on July 23, but was chasing down his girlfriend instead.
According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, master pilot Terry Carver testified that on July 20 his nephew called to tell him that he had spotted Carver's girlfriend riding around in another man's truck, and Carver struck off to Illinois to investigate.
Carver's departure left apprentice mate John Bavaret in charge of the towboat Mel Oliver, which on July 23 steered a barge into the tanker Tintomara, spilling 420,000 gallons of fuel oil into the river.
Carver was following the progress of the tugboat via cell phone and was informed by a deck hand that "they got hit by a ship," Carver said, according to The Times-Picayune report.
The collision shut down a 97-mile stretch of the key commercial trading link for days as the U.S. Coast Guard scrambled to clean up a scrim of foul-smelling fuel oil.
Coast Guard spokesman Stephen Lehmann in New Orleans said the tugboat operator had only an apprentice mate's license, and no one else on the vessel had a license to operate the boat on the river. To pilot a tugboat, the operator should have had a master's license, Lehmann said.
(Reporting by Chris Baltimore; editing by Jim Marshall)