Crews are skimming oil out of the water and booms have been brought in to protect environmentally sensitive areas of the Houston shipping channel, Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick said Sunday morning. The area is a popular bird habitat, especially during the approaching migratory shorebird season, and Kendrick said there have been no reports of impact on wildlife.
The spill was reported at around 12:30 p.m. Saturday by the captain of the 585-foot ship, Summer Wind.
The collision was still being investigated, Kendrick said, and the remaining oil is being moved off of the damaged barge, which carrying 924,000 gallons of marine fuel oil, also known as special bunker.
Officials still believe that just one of the barge's tanks was breached; the tank had a capacity of 168,000 gallons. On Saturday, there was a visible sheen of oil at the scene. Kendrick said it isn't clear how much oil spilled into the bay.
"A large amount of that has been discharged," Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Kristopher Kidd said Saturday.
The barge was being towed from Texas City to Bolivar at the time of the collision. Six crew members from the tow vessel were in stable condition, but it offered no details about their injuries.
The Coast Guard said that Kirby Inland Marine, which owns the tow vessel and barge, is working with the Texas General Land Office and many other federal, state and nonprofit agencies to respond to the spill. Tara Kilgore, an operations coordinator with Kirby Inland Marine, declined to comment Saturday.
Jim Suydam, spokesman for the Texas' General Land Office, described the type of oil the barge was carrying as "sticky, gooey, thick, tarry stuff."
"That stuff is terrible to have to clean up," he said.
Suydam said almost every private cleanup outfit in the area was out there helping out under the coordination of the Coast Guard and General Land Office.
Bruce Clawson, the director of the Texas City Homeland Security, told The Daily News in Galveston that the barge sank, but that there is no danger to the community, which is about 40 miles southeast of downtown Houston. Suydam said he could not confirm whether the barge sank.
The affected part of the Houston ship channel is closed to traffic, the Coast Guard said.
Richard Gibbons, the conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society, said there is important shorebird habitat on both sides of the ship channel. One is the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary just to the east, which Gibbons said attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds to shallow mud flats that are perfect foraging habitat.
"The timing really couldn't be much worse since we're approaching the peak shorebird migration season," Gibbons said. He added that tens of thousands of wintering birds remain in the area.
Monday marks the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska. Suydam said that spill spurred the creation of the General Land Office's Oil Spill and Prevention Division, which is funded by a tax on imported oil that the state legislature passed after the Valdez spill.