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OR&R Responds to Barge Collision in Houston Ship Channel

Last Updated: May 16, 2019

MAY 13, 2019 — On Friday, May 10, the U.S. Coast Guard notified OR&R of a vessel collision near Houston that occurred around 3:20 p.m. A 755-foot tanker, MV Genesis River, and the tug Voyager collided in the Houston Ship Channel near Bayport, Texas. The Genesis River took on water but did not spill any fuel or cargo. One of the barges capsized, and another barge was damaged and released a gasoline blending stock into the channel and Galveston Bay. There were no reports of any injuries to the crew members. The cause of the collision is under investigation.

An aerial view of three barges with several vessels around them.
The Unified Command continues salvage operations on two barges May 12, 2019 near Bayport, Texas after a collision on the Houston Ship Channel at Lights 71-74 between a 755-foot tanker and a tug pushing two barges. Crews continue to maintain boom deployed and remain focused on environmentally sensitive areas. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard.

According to a Coast Guard press release, the tug was transporting two barges — each loaded with about 25,000 barrels of gasoline blend stock. The official amount released from the Kirby is believed to be about 9,000 barrels, or 378,000 gallons. The Genesis River was loaded with butane and propane, but was not reported to be spilling any petroleum cargo.

The Coast Guard established a Unified Command with the Texas General Land Office and Kirby Inland Marine on Friday. OR&R’s Emergency Response Division has provided weather, trajectory, resources at risk, and hazard analysis products and preliminary discussion and scoping efforts have begun to assess environmental impacts. The Unified Command has also been conducting air sampling and is responding to citizen questions about air quality and potential health risks from exposure to the spilled material. 

Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT) teams continue to check for areas where oil may have reached the shore. OR&R’s Assessment and Restoration Division has also sent staff on scene to begin assessing the damage to natural resources in the area. There are reports of wildlife impacts and a sizeable fish kill was reported.

As of Sunday, May 13, the sheens in the waterway near the damaged barge were significantly reduced from the day before. Operations to transfer cargo to another vessel began yesterday. The capsized barge is still intact with no visible sheening. Some of the darker oil near the barge Kirby and along the shoreline is being recovered.

Doug Helton, operations coordinator for OR&R’s Emergency Response Division, said the operations to empty and refloat the capsized barge will be challenging due to the barge’s double hull and its current position. The barge is upside down, with all the hatches and vents now grounded in the mud at the bottom of the bay adjacent to the shipping channel. The oil is also highly flammable, and responders will have to approach the tanks with extreme caution to avoid an explosive reaction.

Three vessels around a barge.
Two barges involved in a collision are removed from the Houston Ship Channel, May 15, 2019. Kirby barge 30015T was transferred to the Southwest Shipyard at Channelview, while barge MMI 3041 was transferred to Barbour’s Cut Turning Basin. Image credit; U.S. Coast Guard.

A Unified Command press release stated that 334 federal, state, and local response personnel are engaged in planning and implementing response and cleanup operations. Eight skimmers are in operation and more than 20,000 feet of product containment and absorbent boom have been deployed to limit further contamination.

Update: As of Wednesday, May 15, the two barges were successfully removed from the Houston Ship Channel. The estimated spill volume from the damaged barge was increased to 11,276 barrels (473,600 gallons). 

The Port of Houston-Galveston has reopened the Houston Ship Channel without restrictions and normal vessel traffic has resumed. Air monitoring is ongoing as the scene of the incident, and skimming operations are also ongoing to collect product from the sheen at the site. Water quality sampling is being conducted and environmental samples of discharged product are being analyzed. 

OR&R is continuing to provide trajectory information for potential discharges of product remaining in the damaged barge. NOAA is also assisting with the shoreline survey efforts and characterization of the spilled materials.