* Coast Guard says no timeline for reopening Houston Channel
* Exxon: Channel closure has not affected Baytown refinery
* Second barge collision on Houston Channel this month
(Updates with notice to mariners on length of closure, birds
By Terry Wade
TEXAS CITY, Texas, March 24 The closure of major
Texas shipping channels that deliver crude to more than a tenth
of the nation's refining capacity was set to run into a third
day and could continue through the week as crews were still
working on Sunday night to clean up after an oil spill.
The Houston Ship Channel, which allows oil barges and cargo
ships to sail from the Gulf Coast to refiners and terminals
further inland, was shut on Saturday following a collision
between a Kirby Inland Marine oil barge and a cargo ship,
spilling some 4,000 barrels, or 168,000 gallons (636,000
liters), of residual fuel oil.
A warning to mariners issued by the U.S. Coast Guard on
Sunday said portions of the Houston Ship Channel and its
offshoots to Texas City and Galveston, Texas, along with a
portion of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway could be shut through
Saturday March 29 or longer depending on the requirements of the
cleanup. Kirby Inland Marine is operated by Kirby Corp.
There were signs of progress on Sunday. Coast Guard Capt.
Brian Penoyer said cleanup crews have pumped all remaining fuel
oil from the barge, which is partially sunken near the entrance
to the channel. The barge has been refloated and moved to a
different position near the site of the collision in the
The channel will remain shut "until clean water is assured,"
Penoyer told reporters at a news conference in Texas City.
A local official said the channel was expected to be shut
well into Monday. The official asked not to be identified as the
information had not yet been made public.
The outage has yet to impact operations at Exxon Mobil
Corp.'s 560,500 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in
Baytown, Texas, the nation's second-largest, company spokesman
Nicolas Scinta said.
Representatives for seven other refineries in Houston and
Texas City, Texas, did not reply to requests for information
about possible reductions in production.
As of Sunday evening, 40 ships were waiting to depart the
port of Houston and 35 were waiting to enter. Another seven
ships were waiting to leave Texas City; five were waiting to
sail to that refining hub.
CRUISING TO PORT
Late on Sunday, Carnival Corp.'s cruise liner
Carnival Magic docked at the port of Galveston with special
permission from the Coast Guard. Carnival's ship Carnival
Triumph will be allowed to dock on Monday morning.
Both Carnival Magic and Carnival Triumph are scheduled to
depart Galveston on Monday.
A Kirby-operated barge carrying fuel oil collided with a
ship carrying rice at nearly the same location on March 14. In
that accident, the cargo ship was damaged, but no fuel oil was
The Ship Channel is a 55-foot (17-meter) deep pathway for
barges and deep-draft ships cut into the floor of Galveston Bay,
which averages 20 feet (6 meters) in depth.
The spill is far smaller than that by the Exxon Valdez
tanker, which struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in
1989. A total of 11 million gallons of heavy black crude oil
were estimated to have been released by the Exxon Valdez.
In contrast, only one tank on the barge was ripped open by
the collision with the cargo ship in the Houston Channel on
Saturday, releasing an estimated 168,000 gallons.
Wildlife Response Services, a Texas-based wildlife
rehabilitation service, is helping affected birds and marine
Fewer than 10 birds covered with oiled have been sighted and
brought in for recovery, said the Coast Guard.
As of Sunday evening, 24 vessels are skimming from the
waterway, the Coast Guard said. More that 69,000 feet of
floating barriers have been deployed to contain the spill.
Another 141,000 feet of barriers are on standby for use if
(Reporting by Terry Wade in Texas City, Erwin Seba in Houston,
Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Missouri, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los
Angeles and Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Edith Honan,
Cynthia Osterman, Bernard Orr, Jan Paschal and Muralikumar