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Oil Spill Cleanup Gunks Up Busy Texas Shipping Channel

The damaged tank contained 168,000 gallons of fuel oil, and most of it spilled when it collided with a cargo ship Saturday.
/ Source: Reuters

Five skimming boats were working Sunday to clean up oil spilled from a barge that collided with a cargo ship in the entrance to the heavily-trafficked Houston Ship Channel the day before.

"The collision did release a significant amount of oil," said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer in a news conference Sunday.

The single breached tank carried 168,000 gallons of oil and most of it was likely in the waters of Galveston Bay, Penoyer said.

Authorities said Sunday evening that more than 69,000 feet of containment boom — a floating barrier used to enclose an oil spill — had been deployed surrounding the scene of the spill. And another 141,000 feet of boom had been staged for possible deployment.

The Houston Ship Channel remained closed on Sunday to contain the environmental damage and prevent additional collisions, according to the Coast Guard.

Carnival Corp's Carnival Magic cruise liner was delayed on Sunday, but arrangements were made to dock the ship, Penoyer said.

Another cruise ship was scheduled to depart Sunday but could not sail because cleanup crews wouldn't be able remove the oil from it once it left, Penoyer said.

Shipping along the Intracoastal Waterway where it intersects the Ship Channel is also affected, according to Reuters.

In all, about 60 vessels, including three cruise ships, were being blocked from moving between the Gulf and Galveston Bay. Officials plan to bring in cruise ships on a case by case basis.

The oil is "heavy crude oil," which varies from thick removable oil to a "thin sheen," Penoyer said.

"At first, the oil was going up the ship channel, then a couple hours later it was coming through the back of the dike," said fisherman Geoff Roberts.

Petty Officer Andy Kendrick, the federal on-scene coordinator, said there were a "few" reports of affected wildlife.

Wildlife Response Services, a Texas-based wildlife rehabilitation service, is aiding affected birds and marine life. The service has not said how many animals they have received for cleaning.

Officials said that fewer than 10 impacted birds were sighted and recovered for transfer to a wildlife rehab facility.

In addition to five skimming vessels working on the spill, smaller vessels were on-hand, Penoyer said, and another 20 vessels were standing by, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard and NTSB are conducting an investigation of the accident, Penoyer said.

— Elisha Fieldstadt with Reuters