LA PORTE, Texas - The Houston Ship Channel fully reopened Thursday morning after a collision between two vessels caused flammable gasoline additive to spill and forced a section of the major waterway to close for three days.
A 4- to 8-mile section of the channel had been shut down since Monday, when the tanker Carla Maersk and the bulk carrier Conti Peridot crashed in foggy conditions. Nobody was hurt, but some of the Carla Maersk's cargo — a gasoline additive called methyl tert-butyl ether, or MTBE — was spilled.
While the unloading of goods and other economic activity continued in the ship channel during the partial closure, ships couldn't enter or leave the 50-mile waterway.
The ship channel was reopened at 8:35 a.m. Thursday.
Forty-three vessels were waiting to depart the ship channel this morning and 47 vessels were waiting to enter, said Patrick Seeba, project director with the Greater Houston Port Bureau, a maritime industry trade organization.
Officials "will focus on sailings for the next several hours before flipping the switch to arrivals," Seeba said in an email.
Crews had been measured in their efforts to clean up the spill and remove the Carla Maersk, which sustained significant damage and had been carrying approximately 216,000 barrels of MTBE. The additive is highly flammable and can be dangerous if inhaled in high doses.
Crews finished transferring the remaining MTBE from the damaged tank and then moved the tanker early Thursday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Dustin Williams said.
Officials were still trying to determine how much had been spilled. High-density foam was used to suppress flammable vapours from the damaged tanks and extensive air monitoring indicated no sign of vapours seeping from the vessel, according to the Coast Guard.
The Conti Peridot had been removed from the collision site on Tuesday.
"Safety of persons, environment and property continue to remain our highest priorities," said Capt. Brian Penoyer, commander of the Houston-Galveston Coast Guard District.
There have been no reports of fish kills or dead birds due to the spill, according to the Galveston Bay Foundation.
No areas have been closed to the harvesting of fish, shrimp or crabs as a result of the chemical spill, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The agency said officials didn't expect any long-term effects as MTBE does not build up in fish tissue.
The cause of the collision remains under investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of the accident is expected to take a year.
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