Monday, September 28, 2009
A two-mile stretch of the Houston Ship Channel's north tip will be closed at least three weeks while crews clean up 10,500 gallons of oil that spilled into the water Friday night after a vessel struck a barge, the U.S. Coast Guard said. “It's slightly over the threshold of a medium spill. The threshold is 10,000 gallons,” said Capt. James Whitehead. “Mainly we look at the impact of the area. It's low economic impact at this point.” The area will be closed to all vessel traffic north of the Sidney Sherman Bridge. U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Marcus Woodring said while the spill is a considerable mess that will interrupt business and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean, it was fortunate the accident didn't happen in a busier stretch of the 52-mile channel, such as the south end. Companies whose business is affected by the shutdown will have to endure the delay or use their insurance to cover any losses, Woodring said. The 458-foot vessel was trying to turn around near Brady's Island around 9 p.m. Friday when it struck Buffalo Barge #251.
MT Chemical SupplierOne of the vessel's fuel tanks was damaged, and heavy fuel oil leaked for more than four hours out of a 2-foot-by-4-foot gash that was about 5 feet above the water line, officials said. The ship's crew transferred the remaining No. 6 ship fuel from the ruptured tank into an empty fuel tank on board. “It stuck to everything,” said Woodring. “It's going to take a while. It will be labor intensive because we basically have to scrub rocks.” Woodring said workers will be restricted to working only during daylight hours while cleaning oil and vapors trapped under the pier. Workers also will need to scrub hulls of several vessels. At least 10 vessels — barges, ships and tug boats — are trapped in the affected area until it re-opens. The ship, Chemical Supplier, is owned by W.O. Ship Management out of the Marshall Islands. Its cargo was airplane fuel, but none of that leaked, Woodring said. The crew aboard the ship all were routinely tested for drug or alcohol use, Woodring said. On Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard placed plastic and foam boom across the ship channel to contain the spill and collected some 5,000 gallons of oil-water mixture. The response includes such resources as more than 15,000 feet of containment boom, 11 work boats, two helicopters and an oil spill recovery barge.