A massive response effort was underway after a tanker collided with a tank barge tow in the Houston Ship Channel Friday afternoon, spilling an estimated 9,000 bbl.  of gasoline product and closing the waterway near Bayport, Texas, Coast Guard and state officials said.

The 755’x121’ Genesis River, a Panama flagged liquid propane gas tanker, collided at about 3:30 p.m. with the 69’x26’x9’, 1,350-hp tug Voyager operated by Kirby Inland Marine as it pushed two 25,000-bbl. tank barges of reformate, a high-octane gasoline blend product.

One barge capsized and the other was split open by the impact, spilling its cargo into the waterway and blanketing the region around the channel with a strong chemical odor. While the capsized barge appears to have not lost any cargo, the other was holed in both its No. 2 tanks, said James Guidry, Kirby’s executive vice president of vessel operations, at a Saturday morning press briefing at the San Jacinto College Maritime Campus .

“The bow of the ship went through the port tank into the starboard tank” and both were open to the sea, said Guidry.

“Our objective now is to get the vessels secured,” said Capt. Kevin Oditt, commander of Coast Guard Sector Galveston. As the cleanup continues the Coast Guard is consulting with port officials and pilots about when the channel can be safely reopened for vessels to proceed through at slow bell, he said.

A unified command was established with the Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office and Kirby to respond to the spill, and the channel was closed between lights 61 and 75. Teams deployed 1,600’ of boom around the barges Friday, and salvage teams were on the scene. By Saturday morning, the booming had extended to 3,600’ with 12,000’ more to be deployed according to contingency plans, said Guidry. An additional 8,700’ was planned for deployment in secondary areas, he said.

The Texas General Land Office deployed teams of local responders and contractors to monitor air quality, amid reports of strong odors. With 1,300 air samples taken and analyzed, state officials said air quality was below actionable levels for public safety. Galveston County officials still advised residents with pre-existing health conditions to stay indoors and avoid the coastline.

“We don’t know the cause of the incident at this time,” said Oditt.  The unified command set up a website at bayport-response-com to issue updates on the cleanup.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.