HSC remains closed, fuel cleanup continues after barge collision

The Houston Ship Channel (HSC) remained closed to unauthorized vessels Mar. 24 as the result of a temporary emergency safety zone being established and enforced following the Mar. 22 collision between the M/V Summer Wind bulk carrier and the Kirby Barge 27706 in the channel near Texas City, Tex., resulting in the release of about 160,000 gal of bunker fuel oil being transported by the barge, according to statements from the Port of Houston Authority (PHA). The barge had the capacity to transport 924,000 gal of the fuel.

PHA reported that progress continued throughout Mar. 23 in cleanup efforts of the spilled fuel. “Responding agencies operating in a Unified Command structure report that more than 69,000 ft of containment boom has now been deployed on waters surrounding the incident site and along sensitive shorelines in the area,” PHA reported, adding later that an additional 192,500 ft of boom has been “staged for possible deployment” with another 20,680 ft on order.

PHA said Mar. 24 that about 27 response vessels are actively working to skim and recover the spilled fuel. More than 380 personnel are actively on scene and another 200 responding in the incident command post, PHA said.

“Importantly, responders were able to complete transferring product inside the barge’s damaged compartment to a second barge, PHA said, adding that “the damaged barge was then moved to a safer location for responders until it can be removed to a local shipyard for further assessment and repair.”

Response officials reported having to extend their containment and oil recovery plans further into the Gulf of Mexico and south along Galveston Island because of changing currents, winds, and weather conditions, the port authority reported.

PHA reported Mar. 24 that the Unified Command was working closely with the Vessel Traffic Service, paired with assessments of HSC, “to determine when partial vessel traffic can resume,” which could include reopening the Bolivar Ferry to alleviate impact to the Bolivar residents.

PHA reported that, as of 6 a.m. Mar. 24, there were “43 outbound vessels and 38 inbound vessels in the queue for transit.” PHA added, “Once the channel has been determined safe to navigate and will not spread oil contaminants, a prioritization list will be established to determine the entry order of vessels.”

The closure will likely have an impact on refinery operations and other shipping in the region, although no interruptions from any of the major refiners in the area were reported as of early Mar. 24.

PHA did report that officials noted the first recovery of oiled birds happening on the afternoon of Mar. 23 and that, as of the morning of Mar. 24, there have been three confirmed captured and three deceased birds. “Experts from US Fish and Wildlife and Texas Parks and Wildlife are responding with stabilization trailers, and are staged along the Texas City Dike and the Bolivar Peninsula,” PHA reported.

The US Coast Guard’s investigation into the collision continues.

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