A tanker on the Houston Ship Channel caught fire early Tuesday morning near Deer Park, Texas, causing a one-mile stretch of the waterway to be closed until late afternoon.
A pilot aboard Hellenic Tankers' 810’ Aframax River notified Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston watchstanders at approximately midnight that the berthed tanker was on fire near the Intercontinental Terminals Company. It was reported that a bunker tank was punctured and caught fire. The tanker was not carrying any product when the incident occurred, the Coast Guard said, but it was believed to have as much as 90,000 gals. of of low sulfur diesel in the bunker tank that was breached.
Coast Guard Station Houston and Station Galveston boat crews, two Port of Houston Authority fire boats and Harris County Sheriff's Office marine division responded, closing the Houston Ship Channel at 12:08 a.m., and establishing a safety zone from the Cargil facility to the Cemex docks.
The fire was extinguished Tuesday morning, but the channel remained closed until approximately 3:30 Tuesday afternoon as Coast Guard and local officials worked to determine the extent of fuel leaked from the tanker. Upon reopening the waterway, officials said that much of the fuel that came out of the ship burned up, leaving only a light sheen on the water at daybreak and small pockets of recoverable fuel near the shoreline.
All tanker crew members were accounted for and no injuries were reported.
"This incident could have been much worse, but was mitigated due to the prompt and effective response of two Port of Houston Authority fire boats," said Capt. Peter Martin, the Captain of the Port and commander of Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston. "Additionally, environmental response experts from the Texas General Land Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were critical to assessing and mitigating the pollution threat while Harris County Sheriff's deputies enforced the federal safety zone to ensure public safety."
The Coast Guard is overseeing further cleanup and response operations by OMI Environmental Solutions. Investigators have begun looking into the cause of the incident and will be working with the National Transportation Safety Board.