Houston Ship Channel traffic could reopen Wednesday as barges’ removal begins

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FILE PHOTO: A barge travels through the Houston Ship Channel, part of the Port of Houston, in Pasadena, Texas, U.S., May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Salvage crews began removing two gasoline barges damaged in a weekend collision with a deep-draft vessel, setting the stage for two-way traffic to reopen in the Houston Ship Channel on Wednesday, officials said.

About 11,280 barrels of gasoline spilled into the channel near Bayport, Texas, after a 755-foot (230-meter) tanker collided over the weekend with a Kirby Inland Marine tugboat towing two barges containing the fuel.

The removal of the Kirby Corp-operated barges could be completed by mid-day Wednesday and two-way traffic could then restart, according to Bayport Channel Collision Response, a group overseeing cleanup and salvage operations.

Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Bayport, said he expected two-way traffic could resume soon after the barges are removed. A U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman referred questions on traffic to Bayport.

Thirty-three ships were waiting at 8 a.m. CDT (1300 GMT) to enter the 53-mile (85 km) waterway connecting the refining hubs of Houston and Texas City to the Gulf of Mexico, down from 44 vessels on Tuesday afternoon, the group said.

Eighteen outbound vessels waited on Wednesday morning, with another 111 at anchorage awaiting transit.

Salvage crews on Tuesday removed the remaining fuel aboard one of the barges struck by liquid petroleum gas tanker Genesis River. Crews will move the other barge, submerged after the collision, to shore before removing its product.

Moving the vessels is expected to take four hours. The Coast Guard and the Port of Houston will suspend navigation for other ships in the channel as the ships are removed, Beuerman said.

Reporting by Collin Eaton; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe

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