Dozens of ships delayed as section of Houston ship channel remains closed

More than 60 ships have been delayed since a section of the Houston Ship Channel was closed Monday following a vessel collision that caused MTBE to spill into the waterway, a Houston Pilots dispatcher said Tuesday.

The dispatcher said 35 inbound and 30 outbound vessels were in the queue late Tuesday afternoon.

The ship channel is closed to all traffic from the Fred Hartman Bridge to ship channel light 86 while salvage operations continue.

US Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer said it was not yet possible to estimate when the section would reopen.

“I’d like to give an estimate that would be helpful, but we have to proceed step by step with the response,” he said. “Candidly, it has to be that way until we secure the vapor from the MTBE.”

About 12:40 pm CDT (1740 GMT) Monday, the chemical tanker Carla Maersk and dry bulker Conti Peridot collided just south of Morgan’s Point during a heavy fog. The impact pierced two cargo tanks on the Carla Maersk and MTBE began leaking into the ship channel.

Penoyer said there was little sign of MTBE on the water’s surface.

“With the single exception of a trace release from the damaged area of the hull on the Carla Maersk, we were unable to locate any evidence of sheen on the water,” he said.

The ship was carrying 216,000 barrels of the gasoline additive, but Penoyer said the entire cargo was not spilled as the crew was able to transfer MTBE out of the affected tanks and into other tanks on board.

The suspension of ship movements in the Houston Ship Channel impacts the delivery and loading schedules of crude oil and petroleum and petrochemical products. The 52-mile ship channel provides access from the Gulf of Mexico through Galveston Bay to various ports in Houston and other cities in the area that have many industrial facilities, including refineries and petrochemical plants

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