HOUSTON, April 8 (Reuters) – Ships were moving inbound and outbound on Monday morning through an area of the Houston Ship Channel that had been contaminated by a March chemical spill, the U.S. Coast Guard said, further loosening restrictions on the waterway.
A total of 49 ships – 28 inbound, 21 outbound – were waiting to transit the 53-mile (85-km) waterway between the busiest U.S. petrochemical port and the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, the Coast Guard said.
Monday’s queue of ships is about normal for the channel, but a third of the backlog that built up within days following a March 22 spill of chemicals when a dam failed at Mitsui & Co Intercontinental Terminals Deer Park, Texas, facility, where a massive March 17-20 blaze consumed 11 giant storage tanks.
The spilled chemicals, mostly gasoline-blending components, forced the Coast Guard to shut the channel for three days. After the closure, ships began moving through the upper channel with restrictions on number, timing and direction. They were limited to daylight hours.
Under the restrictions, Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Deer Park refinery became choked for crude oil and was within days of shutting down, while Lyondell Basell Industries was forced to cut production at its Houston refinery.
Both refineries have since raised production.
The Coast Guard has been gradually lifting the restrictions. As of Monday, ships are only limited by a 15-minute spacing requirement and have to be inspected before entering and exiting the contaminated area.
On Sunday, the Coast Guard halted ship traffic through the spill zone while severe thuderstorms lashed the Houston area from mid-morning to late afternoon. Traffic was allowed to resume Sunday evening. (Reporting by Erwin Seba Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)
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