Capt. Brian Penoyer, Captain of the Port for the U.S. Coast Guard, yesterday closed the Houston Ship Channel between light 86 and Morgan’s Point following the collision of the Carla Maersk and the Conti Peridot at about 12:40 hours. The closure includes Goose Creek, Tabbs Bay, Cedar Bayou Channel and Barbours Cut.
Three port tanks of the Carla Maersk, a 600-foot chemical tanker, were punctured during the collision. The tanker was carrying approximately 216,000 barrels of Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), which is used as an additive in gasoline. An unknown quantity of the MTBE has spilled into the waterway. An incident command post has been established at the City of La Porte Emergency Operations Center to further response efforts. Air quality is being monitored and a shelter in place order has been issued for the area surrounding Morgan’s Point and Barbour’s Cut terminal. MTBE is highly flammable and smells like paint thinner.
The cause of the collision is under investigation by the NTSB and the U.S. Coast Guard.
No time for the reopening of the channel is yet known as the Coast Guard is working to ensure that the remaining product in the Carla Maersk is first secure. There are currently 26 ships waiting to come inbound to Houston and 14 waiting to leave. At a press conference this morning led by Capt. Penoyer, he explained “… we have to proceed step by step, making sure, given the flammability and toxicity of this cargo, that we are absolutely safe… not just for the communities, but also for the men and women conducting this salvage operation. Accordingly timelines are somewhat meaningless.”