Houston Ship Channel partially closed after chemical spill

Dozens of cargo vessels are stuck waiting to enter and leave the Port of Houston while the port’s ship channel remains partially closed in the aftermath of a major chemical spill.

On May 10 two barges were struck by the 755-foot chemical tanker Genesis River, capsizing one of the barges and causing an estimated 9,000 barrels of reformate, a gasoline blend stock, to leak from the second barge, which was also significantly damaged. No injuries were reported as a result of the collision, which occurred just south of the Bayport Container Terminal in upper Galveston Bay.

A unified command consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, the port’s fire department and Kirby Inland Marine, owner of the tugboat that was towing the barges, was established to respond to the accident. Thousands of feet of containment boom were deployed over the weekend to contain the spill.

“Salvage teams are working to begin implementing the salvage and recovery plan in the channel,” Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for the response team, told FreightWaves on May 12.

The teams plan to first lighter-off reformate from the damaged barge until it can be safely removed from the waterway, Beuerman said. The second phase of the recovery effort will be to remove the capsized barge. “The big question is how long that will take, which we don’t know yet,” he said.

One-way (outbound) ship and two-way barge traffic has been restored, according to authorities, although a partial closure of the ship channel remains in effect. As of 2 p.m. local time on May 12, queues of 47 outbound and 48 inbound vessels were waiting to transit the channel.

The 52-mile long Houston Ship Channel connects the country’s number one export region and the Americas’ largest petrochemical manufacturing complex to domestic and foreign markets via the Gulf of Mexico. The Port of Houston handled over 200 million short tons of international cargo in 2018, according to the port.

A separate investigation into the cause of the accident is ongoing.

Note: This story has been updated.

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.

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