Oil spill cleanup suspends ship traffic at Houston channel

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Houston, TX, United States (4E) – Traffic in part of the Houston Ship Channel is suspended Sunday to allow the cleanup of an oil spill caused by the collision of a cargo ship and a fuel oil barge near the Texas City dike on Saturday afternoon.

Ships were told not to sail between the Intra¬coastal Waterway to lighter buoy 32 while ferry service between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula is also suspended as skimming vessels scoop some 168,000 gallons of oil that spilled into Galveston Bay. The temporary closure of the channel caused 33 incoming vessels to wait at the Gulf of Mexico and stopped 36 vessels from leaving the bay as of Sunday, according to Coast Guard Lt. Sam Danus.

Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer said the cleanup will take several days because bunker fuel does not evaporate quickly.

The cleanup followed the collision of the 585-foot Summer Wind, a Liberian flag bulk vessel and a barge carrying 924,000 gallons of bunker oil at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The barge was one of two being towed by the tugboat Miss Susan from Texas City to the Bolivar Peninsula. No one was hurt during the collision.

More than 90,000 feet of containment boom have been laid around the spill to prevent it from reaching the Big Reef at the end of Galveston Island and Little Pelican Island. A tidal gate connecting Moses Lake with Galveston Bay was also closed.

Police evacuated the five-mile-long Texas City dike, where a line of sticky black tar from the oil spill washed ashore. The levee where a regatta was headquartered was also evacuated and the Bay Street Park was closed to allow easy access for the cleanup crews and equipment, said Bruce Clawson, Texas City’s homeland security director.

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

Galveston Bay Foundation President Bob Stokes fear that the oil spill will affect migratory birds with nesting areas near the collision site.

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