Houston Ship Channel partially reopens after blaze at oil facility

A tugboat (L) passes a ship docked on a stretch of the Houston Ship Channel, part of the Port of Houston, on March 6, 2019. Credit: LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images

An area of the Houston Ship Channel was partially reopened yesterday and vessels are being inspected for contamination after an oil products fire at International Chemicals Co. facility at Deer Park, in Houston, Texas.

The National Guard were called in on Tuesday and residents told to stay indoors after a fire at the facility and subsequent breach in the tanks caused large quantities of benzene to evaporate into the air, with oil products leaking into an area of the waterway at the eastern entrance to Buffalo Bayou, barring entry to at least 52 vessels. Booms used to contain the spill had collected around 1,500 barrels of oil equivalent by Sunday.

“The captain of the port has opened that area to allow ships one at a time, in daylight hours,” USCG Petty Officer Kelly Parker told Safety at Sea. “The port is conducting visual inspections on every ship that goes through the area close to Tucker’s Bayou to ensure that the vessels do not have any oil products on the hull. He’s also issued two-way traffic to 20 vessels during daylight hours.”

Authorities are still investigating to determine the cause of the fire, which caused significant damage to the tank farm. Meanwhile, cleanup crews are in the process of removing what is left of the product from the damaged tanks.