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Oil spills as vessels collide at Texas port

A barge made a large gash in the side of the Eagle Otome after the two vessels collided Saturday, spilling an undetermined quantity of crude oil, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Associated Press

A barge made a large gash in the side of the Eagle Otome after the two vessels collided Saturday, spilling an undetermined quantity of crude oil, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

PORT ARTHUR, Texas — As much as 450,000 gallons of crude oil may have spilled in a southeast Texas port when two vessels collided Saturday morning, but it's unclear whether that much actually leaked from the damaged tank, a U.S. Coast Guard official said.

No one was injured in the collision, but the Port of Port Arthur was closed and some nearby residents were evacuated for about seven hours.

Coast Guard officials would not say late Saturday when the size of the oil spill would be determined or how long the cleanup would take.

According to Petty Officer Richard Brahm, the ship's crew members said they pumped 69,000 barrels from the damaged tank that carried 80,000 barrels, so they have 11,000 barrels — about 450,000 gallons — that they can't account for.

Several local officials said only 1,000 barrels, or about 42,000 gallons, of oil had been spilled into the water.

Brahm acknowledged that it doesn't look like hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude was in the water. He said some might still be in the damaged tank.

Port Arthur police Sgt. Ken Carona told television station KFDM that said hydrogen sulfide — a hazardous gas with a rotten egg smell — was emanating from the oil. He told the station that the levels weren't hazardous, but were a nuisance.

Mike Free, a battalion chief with the Port Arthur fire department, said fire department monitors were no longer detecting hydrogen sulfide.

Greg Fountain, the Jefferson County emergency management coordinator, said there could be a risk of an explosion when the two metal vessels are separated.

"You never know where a fire source might come from," said Fountain, who said a shelter had been set up for evacuees at the city's recreation center.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Renee Aiello said the crude spilled when an 800-foot tanker carrying oil collided with a towing vessel pushing two barges. The Coast Guard was notified of the collision around 9:50 a.m., she said.

The crash left a 15-by-8-foot hole in the tanker, Aiello said. The towing vessel then hit another tanker that was tied to a pier. Brahm said that tanker sustained some damage, but had no leaks.

Brahm said the Coast Guard, which is in charge of the cleanup, had contained the spilled oil with floating plastic barriers.

The Port Arthur spill is much smaller than the 11 million gallons spilled in Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989.

Oil spills as vessels collide at Texas port 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 11:21pm]
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