Houston Channel Remains Closed After Ships Collide

A portion of the busy Houston Ship Channel was shut Monday after two 600-foot ships collided in fog, causing a leak of flammable liquid.

The Houston Ship Channel is still closed following a collision yesterday between two ships.

The ship channel is expected to remain closed until the U.S. Coast Guard has the situation under control. Officials at Morgan’s Point was lifted overnight.

Captain Brian Penoyer says just after 12:30pm Monday, two ships - a Danish flagged Carla Maersk chemical tanker carrying 216,000 barrels of MTBE and a Liberian flagged Conti Peridot bulk carrier with steel on board - moving at significant speeds collided. Methyl tert-butyl ether is a gasoline additive used as an oxygenate and to raise the octane number. It is a volatile, flammable, and colorless liquid that is sparingly soluble in water.

The U.S. Coast Guard says its immediate response to the area was to assess any risk of fire or explosion from vapors and human health protection. Coast Guard officials plan to send a chopper this morning after sunrise to survey the area. They couldn’t fly yesterday near the Ship Channel because of fog and rain.

The U.S. Coast Guard incident commander says they don’t know how much if any MTBE may have spilled but they know three tanks are damaged. Weather made afternoon assessment of any sheen on the surface challenging.

“We are in the process of assessing how much cargo was lost. We are confident there is no continuing release other than vapor,” Captain Penoyer said.

“I want everyone to be prepared this is not a chemical that is easy to clean up,” Captain Penoyer said.

“The chemical that I understand is pretty toxic. I’m not that familiar with it but hopefully it has pretty high gravity and will float. I’ve seen the equipment and hopefully they can contain it,” Sylvan Beach resident Steven Smith said.

The National Transportation Safety Board also dispatched a team of investigators to the scene, according to an NTSB statement.

Records show the Conti Peridot was built in 2011 and left Panama Feb. 27 for Houston. It previously had been to Shanghai, China. The Carla Maersk, built in 1999, left Venezuela Feb. 7, arrived in Houston last Wednesday and was headed back to Venezuela.

It was the second ship collision in the channel in less than a week. No pollution and no injuries were reported last Thursday when a 445-foot tanker and 892-foot container ship bumped about 15 miles up the channel from Galveston.

Related: The World’s Biggest Container Ship (for now!)

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