The Coast Guard aimed to reopen one of the nation’s busiest seaports Monday, two days after a collision between a barge and a ship spilled as much as 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil into the waters south of Houston.
The barge was being towed by the Miss Susan from Texas, City, Texas, to Bolivar, Texas, at the time of the collision. All six crew members of the Miss Susan were accounted for and two were treated at the hospital for hydrogen sulfide exposure.
The accident shut down marine traffic in the channel from the Intracoastal Waterway to lighter buoy 32, as well as the Bolivar ferry.
The closure stranded some 80 barges on either side of the channel. But the Coast Guard hoped to reopen it to some traffic later in the day, allowing those vessels to enter or leave the bay.
“Currently, the Coast Guard has two overflights over the channel to look for oil, and believe that a majority of the oil is out of traffic lanes,” Patrick Seeba, program manager of the Houston Ship Channel security district said. “The Captain of the port is hopeful that movements may begin today, including the ferries about which initial reports show no sign of contamination.”
Oil from the damaged barge spread as far as 12 miles into Galveston Bay as wind and choppy water made containing the spill difficult, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.
“This spill-I think if we keep our fingers crossed- is not going to have the negative impact that it could have had,” said Jerry Patterson, commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, the lead state agency on the response to the spill.
Officials believe that most of the oil that spilled Saturday is drifting out of the Houston Ship Channel into the Gulf of Mexico, which should limit the impact on bird habitats around Galveston Bay as well as beaches and fisheries important to tourists.
Jim Guidry, executive vice-president of Houston-based Kirby Inland marine Corp., which owned the barge, has said the company- the nation’s largest operator of inland barges- would pay for any cleanup costs.
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