Collision closes part of Houston shipping channel


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

Methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, a gasoline additive aboard the Danish-flagged chemical tanker Carla Maersk, leaked from tanks that ruptured in the vessel’s collision with a Liberian bulk carrier, Conti Peridot, Coast Guard Petty Officer Manda Emery said.

Three cargo tanks on the vessel were ruptured, releasing an unknown quantity of the gasoline additive, said Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer, commander of the Houston-Galveston Coast Guard District.

Crews were examining the vessel’s tanks to determine how much of the product may have been spilled into the 50-mile (80-kilometre) channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Houston.

The leak was halted about 90 minutes after the Coast Guard received word of the collision between the two 600-foot (373-mile) vessels about 12:40 p.m., Emery said.

The Port of Houston, a major part of the ship channel, is home to the nation’s largest and one of the world’s largest petrochemical complexes. It typically handles about 70 ships per day, plus 300 to 400 tugboats and barges, and consistently ranks first in the U.S. in foreign waterborne tonnage, U.S. imports and U.S. export tonnage. It is second in the U.S. in total tonnage.

No injuries were reported but officials asked that the about 350 people who live in the area remain inside their homes. They also halted activity at the Barbours Cut Terminal, where cargo vessels are loaded and unloaded.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency describes MTBE as a volatile, flammable and colorless liquid that dissolved rather easily in water. It’s used to raise the oxygen content of gasoline.

Emery said it was too soon to blame rain and fog for the collision.

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’s the second ship collision in the channel in less than a week. No pollution and no injuries were reported last Thursday when a tanker and a container ship bumped.


Associated Press reporters Terry Wallace and David Warren in Dallas contributed to this story.