Houston Ship Channel reopened after barge tow collision

Two barges, one carrying a million gallons of petroleum naptha and another loaded with cumene bound for petrochemical plants, collided early Monday morning in the Houston Ship Channel after a towboat lost power, according to the Coast Guard.

A fire broke out during the 1:20 a.m. accident at mile marker 349, and the Coast Guard summoned a fireboat that brought the fire under control after four hours. The channel was temporarily closed on the Bolivar Peninsula side to mile 348 until 9:15 p.m., after the Coast Guard found there was no significant spill.

Two Kirby Inland Marine barges were eastbound in the channel, pushed by the 2,400-hp, 81’x30’ Capt. Shorty C, and encountered two westbound Enterprise Marine Services barges pushed by the 2,000-hp Jackie. One of the towboats may have lost power, and an investigation is ongoing. Three barges were damaged in the collision, but no injuries were reported, the Coast Guard said.

By morning light the barges were secured and prepared for offloading. Naptha is a solvent used in a range of products, and cumene is a thinner for paints and other coatings, and an ingredient in high-octane fuels. According to Kirby’s website, the Houston-based company has 905 active tank barges and 249 active towboats with total liquid cargo capacity of 18.1 million barrels. Houston-based Enterprise Marine has 63 towboats and 131 barges.

Monday’s incident was the latest in a series of accidents in the Houston Ship Channel, including a June 10 allision between a tow and a moored barge. Officials issued a shelter-in-place order for the Chevron facility where that accident occurred, to protect workers from the resulting naptha spill.

A March collision between the 600′ chemical tanker Carla Maersk and the 623′ bulk carrier Conti Peridot at Morgan’s Point closed the ship channel, after the accident released some of the bulk carrier’s cargo of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a fuel additive.

In its own investigation of another March 2014 Houston Ship Channel collision, the National Transportation Safety Board last month called for better traffic management and use of separation lanes by the Coast Guard to handle the waterway’s heavy traffic.

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