TEXAS CITY — The U.S. Coast Guard continued cleanup efforts Sunday, a day after a barge and ship collided near the Texas City Dike, spilling thousands of gallons of heavy oil into Galveston Bay.
Meanwhile, Galveston County saw the first effects of the spill, as dark, viscous oil began washing ashore in Galveston and the first reports surfaced of contaminated animals.
Aerial surveillance showed concentrations of oil 12 miles offshore, said Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer.
“This is a significant spill,” he said.
Skimmers collect oil
Nearly 400 people are working on cleaning up the spill, Penoyer said, and more are on the way.
Five large skimmers are collecting oil from the waters, and smaller skimmers are assisting.
The number of oil spill experts and equipment in the Houston-Galveston area helped. However, efforts were being hampered by fog.
“At this time of year, the weather does not favor us,” Penoyer said.
Cleanup crews finished taking the remaining oil tanks off the barge, accomplishing one of the major aims of the cleanup efforts. The barge was removed from the accident scene Sunday afternoon.
Penoyer said the efforts now shift to protecting environmentally sensitive areas as well as economically important facilities.
Crews set out booms
Meanwhile, the response crews set out more than 69,000 feet of booms to keep oil from environmentally sensitive areas, such as Big Reef and Pelican Island.
But oil got past some of the booms, washing up on East Beach and other areas.
Officials cautioned people from touching any oil they find on beaches.
The barge, carrying 924,000 gallons of heavy oil or “bunker oil,” and the 585-foot bulk carrier Summer Wind collided about 12:30 p.m. Saturday near the intersection of the Texas City Ship Channel, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Houston Ship Channel. One of the barge’s storage tanks, which hold up to 168,000 gallons of oil, ruptured in the collision.
The collision also forced authorities to evacuate the nearby Texas City Dike and hurricane protection levee.
Dike closed until Friday
Bruce Clawson, director of Homeland Security for Texas City, said the dike would be closed until Friday. The levee could re-open today, Clawson said, but until that’s made official, the only people allowed on Skyline Drive atop the levee are residents living in the Grand Cay subdivision.
Galveston County also closed the ship channel and Seawolf Park in Galveston to fishing.
The oil spill forced the Coast Guard to close access to the Houston Ship Channel, rendering one of the nation’s busiest ports closed for the foreseeable future.
Ferry, ship channel closed
Penoyer declined Sunday to give a timeframe for completing the cleanup but had said previously that the cleanup would last several days.
The oil had spread far enough to force the ferry to suspend operations late Saturday. The ferry remained closed Sunday.
Johnston Farrow, Galveston Independent School District communications specialist, said the district would send a bus today to pick up the 20 students that attend Ball High School at the usual time. The bus will travel around the bay to reach the high school. District officials will decide today whether to adjust the students’ schedules because of the extended travel time.
“We’re taking it day by day,” Farrow said.
The spill left as least 45 large vessels waiting in the Gulf of Mexico until the channel is re-opened. Among the ships were cruise ships from Carnival and Royal Caribbean destined for Galveston. Coast Guard officials made arrangements to bring both ships into the isle port to disembark passengers.
Contact reporter Wes Swift at 409-683-5319 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claims line for those affected by spill: 855-276-1275
To report wildlife injured by spill: 888-384-2000
For updates on ferry status: 409-795-2230
- 12:30 p.m.: 585-foot bulk carrier Summer Wind and Kirby Inland Marine Barge 27706 collide near intersection of the Texas City and Houston ship channels.
- 1 p.m.: First emergency response teams arrive at the Texas City Dike.
- 1:15 p.m.: Part of the Houston Ship Channel and Texas City and Galveston ship channels closed to traffic.
- 2 p.m.: Texas City orders the closure of the Texas City Dike, hurricane protection levee and Bay Street Park.
- 3 p.m.: Coast Guard reports that as much as 168,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil is leaking from the barge.
- 9 p.m.: Coast Guard orders the shutdown of the Bolivar to Galveston ferry service.
- 11 a.m.: Reports of oil coming ashore on Galveston’s east end and Dike Beach.
- 11:43 a.m.: City of Galveston issues an alert that all beaches remain open.
- 12 p.m.: Oil booms deployed at ferry landings and along east beach in Galveston.
- 2 p.m.: Coast Guard reports that sheen from the spill reaches as far as 12 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.
- 3 p.m.: Reports of first dead birds as result of the spill.
- 6 p.m.: Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships are allowed to make port.
T.J. Aulds, John Wayne Ferguson
and Wes Swift