Coast Guard reopens Houston, but fog halts ships

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 13, 2011 6:43 PM
Coast Guard reopens Houston, but fog halts ships

By Bruce Nichols

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A tanker collided with a cargo vessel in the Houston Ship Channel early on Tuesday, officially shutting it for several hours, and fog kept ships halted even after the Coast Guard reopened the key oil waterway.

There were no injuries, no fires and no spill after the tanker Charleston collided with the cargo vessel Harvest Sun about 8 a.m. CST (1400 GMT) near Texas City, in the lower end of the 53-mile (85-km) manmade waterway.

The vessels, both about 50,000 deadweight tons and about 600 feet long, anchored safely outside the channel pending investigation, and at midafternoon the Coast Guard lifted its shutdown of the channel in the vicinity of the accident.

Even after the Coast Guard reopening, however, persistent heavy fog kept pilots from moving oceangoing vessels in and out of the channel, which is lined with one of the world's largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants.

Fifteen ships inbound and eight outbound awaited easing of the fog, and the queue probably will grow before the fog lifts, the Coast Guard said.

"The weather services predict dense fog until midday Wednesday sometime," a Coast Guard spokesman said. "Winds out of the east are bringing more moisture, and they predict the fog will hang around for a while."

Most vessels calling at Houston, Texas City and Galveston are oil and petrochemical tankers or offshore oil industry service boats. Grain and container ships also ply the channel, calling mostly at Houston.

Refineries along the ship channel receive crude oil and ship refined products on oceangoing vessels and inland barges. The plants also receive oil and ship products by pipeline and have storage to manage supply interruptions.

Some analysts attributed a jump in gasoline futures prices early in the day to news of the ship collision, but others said a short shutdown of the channel would not be a serious problem.

Houston refineries along the channel include 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.

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 David Gregorio)