Houston Ship Channel Bottleneck Finally Eases

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

May 14, 2019

AdobeStock / © Irina K

AdobeStock / © Irina K

A bottleneck of inbound traffic on the Houston Ship Channel eased on Tuesday though one-way travel restrictions remained following a weekend collision between a deep-draft ship and a barge, officials said on Tuesday.

About 9,000 barrels of gasoline spilled into the channel near Bayport, Texas, when a 755-foot (230-meter) tanker collided over the weekend with a Kirby Inland Marine tugboat towing two barges containing the fuel.

West Texas Intermediate crude at the Magellan East Houston (MEH) terminal on the ship channel traded at an $8.10 a barrel premium to U.S. crude futures, up from a $7.75 premium on Friday, traders said.

"The ship channel situation has definitely influenced" prices for MEH, a broker said. "Vessels are queued up right now, but it should get softer after that."

Salvage operations were continuing on Tuesday on one barge that ruptured and a second vessel that capsized.

Thirty-five ships were waiting at 6 a.m. local time (1100 GMT) to enter the 53-mile (85-km) waterway connecting the refining hubs of Houston and Texas City, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico, down from 45 vessels on Monday afternoon, Bayport Channel Collision Response said.

Fourteen outbound vessels were waiting on Tuesday, said the group, which is overseeing the cleanup and salvage. Another 119 ships were at anchorage awaiting transit.

Emergency workers have not yet begun cutting into the hull of the capsized barge, which has six tanks with fuel that will have to be drained. Responders are considering towing the barge before removing the fuel, but timing remains unclear, officials said.

The Houston Ship Channel could remain under one-way travel restrictions all week, according to JJ Plunkett, port agent for the Houston Pilots, which guides ships through the channel.

The Houston area is home to nine oil refineries that process 12% of the national total.

Shares of Kirby Corp, operator of the tugboat towing the barges involved in the collision, were up 3.5% at $82.41, after tumbling 4% on Monday. 

Reporting by Collin Eaton

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