Houston Ship Channel Reopens to Traffic after ITC Fire, Spill

Houston Ship ChannelImage Courtesy: U.S. Coast Guard/PA2 Johanna Strickland

The Houston Ship Channel has reopened to daylight traffic after being closed for nearly a week following a fire and chemical leak at the Intercontinental Terminals Company plant.

Namely, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port opened the traffic between Houston Ship Channel Light 116 and Tucker’s Bayou, managed by Vessel Traffic Service.

The fire at the Deer Park facility erupted on March 17. Unified Command conducted an overflight of the incident site in the morning hours of April 1, to visually evaluate the progress of product recovery efforts in the HSC. To date, more than 61,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons) of oily water mix have been removed from the waterways.

A third containment boom is now in place to protect Santa Anna Marsh. One barrier is on the San Jacinto River as the water flows into Santa Anna Bayou and two more are at the mouth of the marsh.

More than 130,000 feet of containment boom remain deployed in the impacted areas, which include the Battleship Texas area, the Burnett Bay oyster beds, Carpenters Bayou, Crystal Bay Marsh, Old River, Patrick Bayou, Santa Anna Bayou and marsh, the western shore of the mouth of the San Jacinto River, Tucker Bayou, and the Intercontinental Terminals Company, LLC (ITC) docks.

In an update on March 29, the Gulf Agency Company (GAC) said all tows transiting the contaminated zone would be required to maintain a 30 minute spacing and proceed at a slow bell. Carpenter’s Bayou and Old River remain closed until further notice.

All vessels will be inspected for contamination prior to their departure from the contaminated area. Ships through the spill area are limited to one-way traffic, but tows are moving two-way. One-way traffic for ships will remain in place until there is no longer a need to inspect and/or decontaminate ships.

GAC said there was still significant spillage in Jacinto Port, Carpenters Bayou and Old River. All vessel traffic from/to those areas is currently restricted.

The USCG Gulf Strike Team is working to setup a “locking system” of booms to begin allowing vessels out of Carpenters Bayou. Similar locking systems were planned for Old River and Jacinto Port.

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