Houston Ship Channel closed by spill

Coast Guard photo shows lightering efforts underwayto remove remaining cargo from damaged Kirby Barge 27706 Coast Guard photo shows lightering efforts underwayto remove remaining cargo from damaged Kirby Barge 27706 U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Manda M. Emery

MARCH 24, 2014 — The Houston Ship Channel remained closed this morning as efforts continued to clean-up after a massive spill of marine bunker fuel.

The spill occurred Saturday. At approximately 12:35 p.m., watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Houston/Galveston received a call from the captain of the 585-foot Liberian-flag bulk carrier Summer Wind, reporting a collision between the Summer Wind and a barge, containing 924,000 gallons of fuel oil, towed by the motor vessel Miss Susan.

The motor vessel Miss Susan was transiting from Texas City to Bolivar at the time of the collision. Kirby Inland Marine, owner of the motor vessel Miss Susan and the barges,  activated its emergency response plan immediately.

The Summer Wind is operated by Piraeus, Greece, headquartered Cleopatra Shipping Agency, which is operating under a three-year term of probation that required implementation of an environmental compliance program. The probation was part of a plea deal entered into by Cleopatra in 2012 following an illegal discharge of ballast water by another of its vessels.

According to media reports, Saturday's spill resulted in the release of 168,000 gallons of RMG 380, a heavy residual fuel.

Though skimming and clean up operations continue, efforts to lighter the remaining fuel from the damaged barge have concluded and a statement last night from the office of Texas Governor Rick Perry said that it had now been moved to a shipyard.

The Bolivar ferry remains closed to traffic, and a safety zone, established on Saturday to ensure the well-being of response workers and prevent the further spread of oil, has been extended from lighted buoy 40 to lighted buoy 3 on the Houston Ship Channel. This safety zone restricts the transit of vessels not involved in the response from entering the area. Coast Guard officials did allow two cruise ships to travel through the incident area by late afternoon Sunday to minimize inconvenience to the thousands of passengers aboard and limit economic impacts from the spill. However, neither vessel will be allowed to leave the port again until deemed safe to do so.

Officials report that the first recovery of oiled birds occurred on Sunday afternoon; fewer than 10 impacted birds were sighted and recovered for transfer to a wildlife rehabilitation facility. established by the Unified Command. Protection of the environment remains a high priority The Texas General Land Office has also deployed a bird rehabilitation trailer in the area for quick response to impacted wildlife.