Collision shuts Houston Ship Channel indefinitely

HOUSTON Tue Dec 13, 2011 11:47am EST

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - The Houston Ship Channel, the busiest U.S. petrochemical port, was shut indefinitely on Tuesday after two vessels collided in heavy fog, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

There were no injuries or fires after a tanker and a cargo vessel collided at about 8 a.m. CST near the Texas City Dike, which is in the lower end of the channel between Galveston and Texas City.

There were no oil or chemicals spilled during the collision on the 53-mile (85-km) waterway that routes vessels from the Gulf of Mexico to the huge complex of refineries in Houston and Texas City, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

The tanker was believed to be carrying the chemical acetone, a cleaning solvent, the spokesman said. It was not known what the cargo vessel was carrying.

The vessels involved were the tanker Charleston and the cargo vessel Harvest Sun, both about 50,000 tons dead weight and about 600 feet long, the Coast Guard said.

The Charleston was northbound, headed to Houston. The Harvest Sun was southbound, headed from Houston to Texas City, the Coast guard said.

Both vessels anchored safely outside the channel, awaiting investigators, the spokesman said.

Houston Pilots had stopped boarding vessels due to the fog prior to the accident, the spokesman said, and it was unclear when the fog would lift or boarding would resume.

Houston refineries along the ship channel are Lyondell Basell's 268,000 barrel-per-day refinery, Pasadena Refining's 100,000-bpd refinery, Valero Energy Corp's (VLO.N) 83,000-bpd refinery and Royal Dutch Shell's (RDSa.L) joint-venture 327,000 bpd refinery in Deer Park.

Exxon Mobil Corp's 560,640-bpd refinery in Baytown, the country's largest, also receives crude via the waterway.

The refineries in Texas City supplied by the ship channel are BP Plc.'s 437,080-bpd refinery, Valero's 214,000-bpd refinery and Marathon Petroleum Corp.'s 76,000-bpd refinery.

(Editing by Chris Baltimore and Andrea Evans)

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