Coast Guard Officials Say More Oil Missing From Barge
SAN LEON, Texas (AP) _ Coast Guard officials said Friday a barge that collided with a tanker in the Houston Ship Channel may have spilled 700,000 gallons, or nearly all of its cargo, into Galveston Bay.
The Coast Guard had said earlier that 500,000 gallons of oil spewed into the bay after the accident. But officials considered adjusting that estimate after salvage crews found nothing in a once-submerged cargo tank they expected to contain about 200,000 gallons of oil.
″It looks like a lot of the oil may have escaped from it,″ Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Greene said.
Greene said officials were rechecking ship manifests to determine exactly how much oil was aboard the vessel.
″It could be close to 700,000 gallons (spilled), but I’m not willing to say that yet. The total capacity of that barge was 750,000 gallons. They’re telling us they had 716,000 gallons actually on board,″ Greene said at a press conference at Eagle Point, a real estate development where oil has washed ashore.
The state health department, meanwhile, announced that a ban on fishing in the bay, begun Thursday, would be partially lifted Saturday in several areas apparently unaffected by the oil.
The accident occurred a week ago when the Greek tanker Shinoussa collided with two barges in the Houston Ship Channel, causing one barge to nearly sink. Oil from both barges bubbled into the seafood-rich bay, threatening sensitive marshes, birds and other wildlife.
The oil has washed ashore on several beaches. The latest was Houston Point, a marshy area north of the leading edge of the 12-mile oil slick, where oil was reported Friday morning.
Coast Guard officials say they are perplexed by what appeared to be relatively small amounts of oil spotted on flyovers this week.
While part of the oil may have evaporated, Greene said another possibility is that some sank just below the surface. Tests have shown no evidence that the oil has reached the bottom, he said.
Cleanup crews continued scooping oil off the surface Friday, while salvage team worked on the damaged barge.
Oil-eating microbes were poured into a small marshy area near Pelican Island, adjacent to Galveston Island, on Thursday afternoon. There was no word Friday on whether the microbes were gobbling up the oil as intended.
The spill has halted traffic in the Houston Ship Channel for most of the week. Limited traffic was allowed Friday morning after the damaged barge was lifted out of the channel into shallower waters in the bay.
″It was not very far. They just had to get it to a slightly more stable location,″ said Chief Warrant Officer Rick Meidt.
One deep-draft ship was allowed out of the channel Friday morning, in part to find out if a large ship’s wake would further damage the barge, Meidt said.
The ship passed without incident and at least one other ship was permitted to pass through the area.
″We’re taking it slow and easy,″ Meidt said.
Greene said that for the first time, officials were able to see the damage on the ruptured barge and it is ″extensive.″ After the Shinoussa struck the barge it appears to have plowed into the center of it, he said.
″It’s completely bashed in for probably 100 feet,″ Greene said.
An investigative hearing into the accident resumed Friday morning in Houston. The second mate of the Shinoussa testified the tanker’s pilot was ″racing″ before the accident, and then tried to cover up how fast the ship was traveling. Later, he softened the accusation, saying he had never been told to lie about the tanker’s speed.
The pilot, Raymond Fincher, has denied speeding through the channel.