Houston Ship Channel Reopens to Vessel Traffic Following Tanker Fire

MT Aframax River. File Photo: MaritimeTraffic/
MT Aframax River. File Photo: MaritimeTraffic/Rosie Green

Update: The Coast Guard Captain of the Port reopened the Houston Ship Channel to all vessel traffic at 3:31 p.m. Tuesday.

The Upper Houston Ship Channel was closed at 12:08 a.m., immediately following a bunker fuel spill and fire from the Aframax River, an 810-foot tanker.

“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.

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ReutersBy Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba

HOUSTON, Sept 6 (Reuters) – The Houston Ship Channel re-opened to some vessel traffic on Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard said, after an early morning tanker fire prompted closure of the waterway.

The U.S. Coast Guard Houston Vessel Traffic Service said it would commence with tow vessel transit outbound from Old River and San Jacinto River. That would be followed by inbound movements, it said.

The Houston Ship Channel links the busiest U.S. petrochemical port to the Gulf of Mexico.

Four Houston-area refineries were unable to receive crude oil from tankers on Tuesday after a portion of the channel was shut by an early-morning fire aboard an empty tanker.

The fire began shortly after midnight CDT (0500 GMT) aboard the 810-foot (247-meter) tanker the Aframax River and was extinguished within a few hours. The ship was moved out of the water way to a dock.

Only a light sheen from bunker fuel, a type of diesel, has been seen in the channel, according to the Coast Guard.

The tanker caught fire near the intersection of Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River. The fire appeared to originate in a punctured bunker fuel tank. No injuries were reported, the Coast Guard said.

Because of the closure, Valero Energy Corp’s and LyondellBasell Industries’ Houston refineries, Petrobras’ refinery in nearby Pasadena, Texas and Royal Dutch Shell’s joint venture in Deer Park, Texas could not receive oil. The four refineries have crude on-site in storage tanks and also have access to long-distance and short-haul pipeline systems.

The four refineries have a combined crude oil throughput of 761,505 barrels per day (bpd), equal to 4 percent of U.S. refining capacity.

The channel had been closed to vessel traffic for one mile (1.6 km) southwest from where the ship caught fire, the Coast Guard said.

It said seven ships were waiting to exit the channel and eight were waiting to enter on Tuesday afternoon.

Tankers were able to move to and from Exxon Mobil Corp’s 560,500-bpd Baytown refinery, the Coast Guard said.

Tankers transiting the Houston Ship Channel supply five refineries in the Houston metropolitan area and three refineries in Texas City, Texas. The eight plants have a combined crude oil throughput of 2.1 million barrels per day equal to 11.4 percent of national refining capacity. (Reporting by Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba in Houston, Apeksha Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Trott)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016.