TEXAS CITY — A collision between a barge and a ship Saturday near the Texas City Dike spilled 160,000 gallons of heavy oil into Galveston Bay.

The accident forced authorities to evacuate the dike and surrounding areas — and to close the Houston Ship Channel.

Authorities also suspended operations of the ferry between Galveston and Port Bolivar. Traffic in and out of the ports of Texas City and Galveston was also suspended.

The barge was carrying about 924,000 gallons of bunker oil, according to a report from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer said late Saturday that 160,000 gallons, or 3,800 barrels, of the oil leaked from the barge into the bay.

“This is an extremely serious spill,” he said. “This is a persistent oil. It’s a large quantity. It will spread. People should be aware of that.”

Bunker oil or bunker fuel is a heavy crude and highly polluting oil that also is referred to bottom of the barrel oil. Penoyer said the oil does not evaporate quickly and the cleanup would take several days.

The oil had spread far enough to force the ferry to suspend operations late Saturday.

David Popoff, Galveston County emergency management coordinator, said peninsula residents were warned two hours before shutdown of the ferry  to take alternate routes. 

The two vessels collided about 12:30 p.m. at the intersection of the Texas Ship Channel, the Intracoastal Waterway and Houston Ship Channel. Coast Guard officials declined to say whether one vessel struck the other, saying the investigation was in its early stages. They would not say whether fog contributed to the accident.

According to a report from the Coast Guard, the barge was one of two being towed by the tugboat Miss Susan from Texas City to the Bolivar Peninsula. Both barges were carrying bunker oil.

The ship was a 585-foot bulk carrier named the Summer Wind. After the collision, the ship turned around and berthed at an anchorage at the Bolivar Peninsula. It remained there late Saturday.

Penoyer said officials were working to stop the leak, contain the spilled oil, secure any more oil on the barge and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

That process includes removing undamaged tanks from the barge, which was disabled but was not sinking, Penoyer said.

Coast Guard officials, working with state and local officials, immediately activated a response plan. Booms were deployed to contain the oil and to shield environmentally sensitive areas, such as Little Pelican Island.

Jim Guidry, executive vice president of Kirby Inland Marine, the company that owns the barges and the tugboat, said all crew aboard the barge were accounted for. Two crew members were taken to Mainland Medical Center as a precaution.

Guidry said his company was not taking the incident or the cleanup lightly.

“As a citizen and a resident of the Bay Area, we are very concerned about the incident, and concerned about the effective cleanup of the environment ... around the bay,” he said.

As a precaution and to help with the cleanup, police evacuated the dike, levee and Bay Street Park. The closures were to allow easier access for cleanup crews, Bruce Clawson, Texas City’s homeland security director, said.

Penoyer said state and local officials would monitor air quality for several days as a precaution.

Among those evacuated was Phil Midler, co-owner of XL Kites in Texas City and one of the organizers of the 2014 GBCA Rib Regatta, a kiteboarding event scheduled for Saturday on the levee. He and several kiteboarders had been waiting for the wind to kick up for most of the day.

Midler said around midday the wind finally cooperated and his fellow kiteboarders were ready. Then the wind brought the bad news.

“We smelled it,” he said. “It almost smelled like exhaust fumes, like when you open a tank of oil or gas.”

Being a kiteboarder, Midler knows a lot about wind. And the direction of the wind told him that if something was wrong, it was in the bay.

“We had heard that they had closed the dike,” he said. “But the wind was from the east, so I knew it was something in the ship channel because of the direction of the wind.”

Thirty minutes later, police began evacuating the levee where the regatta was headquartered.

By early evening, the entrance to the dike and the levee remained closed. But a steady stream of semitrailers and trucks carrying oil booms, mobile lighting towers, boats and heavy equipment rolled down to the end of the dike, where cleanup efforts were centered.

The closing of the ship channel also delayed shipping traffic in and out of the Port of Galveston including the return of two cruise ships, which were scheduled to arrive in Galveston on Saturday, Popoff said.

The ships remained at sea Sunday morning and it was unclear when they were return to the Port of Galveston. A Princess Cruise ship at Bayport terminal near Seabrook also was stuck in port.

Traffic in and out of the Port of Texas City was also suspended, Clawson said.

A statement from the Texas City Emergency Management Department said the dike and all parks along the waterfront will be closed until further notice.

Popoff also cautioned that anyone who finds oil-covered birds to not touch them. Instead, call 888-384-2000 and wildlife rescue personnel will be deployed.

Got photos of the road and dike closures or of the submerged barge? Send them to newsroom@galvnews.com or post them to your Facebook or Twitter accounts and hashtag #GCDN.

Contact reporter Wes Swift at 409-683-5319 or wes.swift@galvnews.com; Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or tjaulds@galvnews.com; or photographer Kevin M. Cox at 409-683-5243 or kevin.cox@galvnews.com.

(18) comments

Gary Miller

They haven't closed the causeway?
It's as close to this marine fender bender as Dike Park or Levee.

rah

Why would they close the causeway? The old causeway/bridge for trains appeared to be closed this evening. No boats will be passing through . I think I would be worried about the marine life that will be killed due to this spill.

Robert Buckner

That fog is pretty thick over the water today....

TJ Aulds
TJ Aulds

Gary, they closures are for access to the area to clean up the spill not because they are worried of people being harmed by the leak....

Robert Buckner

I'm not feeling good, what's Buzbee's number?

CARNAC

Outgoing tide later tonight will carry the spill out the channel through the jetties. Then north winds on Sunday.

Loretta Davis

Pretty sickening petrochemical smell here in San Leon. Must really be bad...

Loretta Davis

Leaking barge has about 1 million gallons onboard... TJ-- I would be concerned about someone getting harmed. The smell here in San Leon (and I am inland) is what I smelled only a few times during my years at BP refinery.........

ScrabbleGuy
Stephen Maradeo

The ship that caused the spill "left the area". Wow, this will make headlines around the country by Monday.

Robert Buckner

I thought I saw a report last night that the barge sank, but I'm glad it didn't. Where's Buzbee?

Andy Aycoth

Just try to sue.This ain't BP, you will not get a dime. Plus most companies only look at the bottom line and will not try to make it right like BP.

Andy Aycoth

The Buzzbee comments are not appropriate at this time. Should be focused on the harm it is doing to the bay.

Robert Buckner

They ALL look at the bottom line regardless of the commercials or what they tell you. Folks like Buzbee force folks like BP to make it right.

Mary Branum

FYI: Princess leaves from the Bayport Terminal in Houston; not Galveston.

George Croix

Lawyers also make a big profit off getting payouts to clients who've suffered no harm (from BP).
BP never hesitated that I know of from local incidents to pay the truly harmed. They even paid when harm was done to people who caused their OWN injuries or deaths.
Of course, several thousand opportunistic liars around here also benefitted from legalized extortion lawsuits like most of those post-Isom, and the later non-event 'harmfull smell', etc.
About 45 thousand did not benefit from another hyped up non-issue. Yet...
There is a difference in perception vs reality between what one knows from seeing with his own eyes, vs hearing second and third hand information.

Mike Leahy

Thanks for making the conversion from gallons to the Industry Standard measurement of barrels, TJ. I noticed this was done in a Houston TV news report last night too. That is a sign of improvement by all media doing so (related to a previous dialog we had).

Just for clarity, the terms "bunkers" and crude are mutually exclusive. By definition all forms of the generic term "bunkers" are refined product, not crude oil. Bunkers is a term referring to any of a (nowadays) wide range of products of vary degrees of heaviness (viscosity). It actually refers to coal, back when that is the fuel ships burned. Even light diesel such as Marine Gas Oil can be colloquially referred to as "bunkers" if they are going to be used as fuel in a vessel.

If they are emphasizing the "heaviness" of this bunker product in information being released, it is likely to be 180 CST but, may be the very heavy 380 CST (AKA Bunker C). If you ask if the product had been heated prior to loading the barge, that would get you some good information. If yes, then with each passing hour, that oil is cooling and will become very difficult to pump off from the remaining, so far undamaged, tanks.

Has the Captain of the Port (COTP) federalized the spill yet? At present, the owners of the leaking barge are, by definition the responsible party and must take the lead in all recovery actions unless the spill is federalized and a FOSC (usually the COTP) takes command. Someone higher than the COTP will take over as FOSC if the spill becomes serious enough to offer career-enhancing media coverage. Look for the District Commander from New Orleans to then take over. If the Commandant from Washington shows up announcing he is now the FOSC, you can tell you have a world class media event on your hands.

For benefit of Scrabble Guy below: the other vessel involved in the allusion did not leave the area, she is standing by, at anchor in the Boliver Roads. Ships, unlike cars, cannot simply pull over to the side of the road after an allusion. They must seek and transit to safe anchorage or wharfage to prevent a further casualty from developing.

Bill Reeder
Kelly Nelson

Oil Spill Eater II is a first response bioremediation product that is safe for responders, non toxic to marine species, that actually removes spills from the environment by converting them to CO2 and water. OSE II has cleaned up over 27000 spills since 1989 and recently in Nigeria cleaned up a 150000 gallon spills where the water column was protected and the over 52000 acres of shorelines about half with sensitive mangroves was cleaned up so that in less than 30 days you could not tell there had ever been a spill. OSE II is the safe proven means to clean up a spill. OSEI has contacted the Coast Guard in Morgan city to let them know there is enough OSE II on our Dallas warehouse to clean up a 2,000,000 gallon spill and it can be hot shotted to Galveston immediately.

TikiOwl

thank you for not paid for commercial ad...not. btw nice cut and paste job.

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