The U.S. Coast Guard received a call at roughly 12:30 p.m. on Saturday reporting a collision. The call came from the captain of Summer Wind, a 585 foot ship, that had collided with a barge. This barge was carrying 924,000 gallons of fuel oil. The barge collision caused a leak, and the barge began spilling oil into Galveston Bay.
Spokesman for the General Land Office, Jim Suydam, described the oil as being the “sticky, gooey, thick, tarry stuff.” He added that it is terrible to clean up. The Coast Guard and the General Land Office are coordinating the clean up, and almost every private clean up outfit is working on it.
The barge that was struck in Galveston Bay was being towed by the vessel Miss Susan. There were six crew members aboard the tug. Two of the crew members had to be treated for fume exposure, but all six members are accounted for and are in stable condition. The owner of Miss Susan, Kirby Inland Marine, immediately activated its emergency response plan.
After the barge collision that caused an oil leak occurred at Galveston Bay, a sheen of oil could be seen on the surface of the water. It is unknown how much oil has leaked. Six and a half miles of containment boons are being used to help protect the area. Oil is being skimmed out of the water in this area.
The mouth of the Houston ship canal is currently closed to all ships in either direction. The Texas City dike is also closed. This area is popular for birds, especially during the migratory season. There are also pelicans that frequent this area who stay even after other birds have migrated. So far there have been no reports of wildlife being impacted, however because the amount of oil that leaked is unknown it is not possible to estimate the impact.
On both sides of the closed ship canal are important shorebird bird habitats. These habitats are crucial right now as the peak of the migration season approaches. Migrating birds stop and forage at these habitats. One of the habitats, the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, draws in 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds to its shallow mudflats.
The oil spill is also affecting some businesses, like Lee Rilat’s business. Rilat, who owns Lee’s Bait and Tackle, said if not for the oil spill, business would be booming. This weekend would be the first spring deal, Rilat explained, “the first real weekend for fishing.” Rilat’s store is the last store before the access road to the Texas City dike, which is a popular fishing spot.
This collision is the second collision near the Texas City dike in just over a week. The first collision occurred on March 14. A cargo ship that was carrying rice collided with a barge that was carrying 840,00 gallons of fuel oil. The collision caused rice to spill into the water, but no oil was leaked then. Coast Guard officials said that because no oil was leaked a “major environmental incident” was avoided. That major environmental incident was not avoided this time as the barge collision on Saturday caused an oil spill in Galveston Bay.
By Ashley Campbell