Ship channel reopens after fiery incident

A one-mile stretch of the ship channel has re-opened after it was closed for 14 hours because of a fire and fuel spill.

DEER PARK, Texas- The  Houston Ship Channel has re-opened to all vessel traffic after an early-morning tanker fire and fuel spill caused it to shut down for 14 hours. 

"This incident could have been much worse, but was mitigated due to the prompt and effective response of two Port of Houston Authority fire boats," said Capt. Peter Martin, U.S. Coast Guard. 

The Coast Guard says he is still unsure what ruptured the hull of an 810 foot tanker, The Aframax River, and resulted into a fire. There were no injuries, and he said he doesn't see an increased risk for barges. 

“Apparently she struck an object and punctured one of her fuel tanks that fuel spilled and ignited,” said Martin. 

Martin says the flames reached up to 200 feet as the oil erupted.

“There were no injuries no fatalities and no one missing everyone is accounted for and we are tremendously grateful for that,” he said. "Additionally, environmental response experts from the Texas General Land Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were critical to assessing and mitigating the pollution threat while Harris County Sheriff's deputies enforced the federal safety zone to ensure public safety."

The oil tanker wasn't carrying any freight when the incident happened but leaked its own fuel supply.

The fire has been extinguished, and the Coast Guard says no one was injured.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Dustin Williams says the Coast Guard is trying to determine how much fuel was spilled and what exactly caused the puncture.

“We really couldn't get a sense of the magnitude of the scale during the darkness so this daylight is our first real opportunity to get a look at how extensive the spill is,” Martin said.

Photos: Fire, oil spill in Houston Ship Channel

One mile of the ship channel remains closed south of the Battleship Texas. Crews will assess the spill after sunrise and hope to reopen the ship channel sometime after 9 a.m.

“Right now we have pollution investigators on the scene trying to understand the extent of the pollution and what kind of cleanup will be required,” Martin said.

The Lynchburg Ferry was closed due to the spill.

MarineTraffic.com indicates the ship arrived in Houston from St. Lucia over the weekend. It was supposed to leave the ship channel for travel to Mexico when the incident occurred. The same website reports 25 crew members were safely evacuated as firefighters put out the blaze.

It still isn't clear how much fuel spilled out of the tanker, but the Coast Guard believes most of the low sulfur diesel burned up in the fire. Crews are skimming what did get in the water in order to reduce any possible environmental impact. 

The Lynchburg Ferry will reopen tomorrow morning. 

Investigators have begun looking into the cause of the incident and will be working with the National Transportation Safety Board. 

 

 

(© 2016 KHOU)


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