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Oil From Port Arthur Tanker-Barge Collision Stretches Nine Miles

PORT ARTHUR, Texas, January 25, 2010 (ENS) – Cleanup crews and 27 skimmer boats are working to contain and remove oil from a massive spill that happened when a crude oil tanker and a barge collided Saturday in the Port Arthur Ship Channel.

A nine mile stretch of shoreline has been impacted, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, even though 11 miles of containment boom was deployed in an attempt to contain the spill. There are 36 vessels on scene to deploy and work the giant boom.

Tanker-barge collision results in a giant oil spill. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The 807-foot tanker T/V Eagle Otome collided with the barge, which ripped a 15-foot-long hole in her hull allowing an estimated 462,000 gallons of crude crude oil to gush out into the waterway.

Jefferson County Emergency Management Coordinator Greg Fountain and U.S. Coast Guard officials say the tanker from Singapore was inbound with a load of crude oil when she lost power and the crew lost the ability to control the ship. Fountain says the tanker struck a vessel docked at the Port and a towboat pushing two barges then struck the tanker.

The tide lifted the tanker and the barge early Sunday, separating them without even more oil being spilled, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm. But the two vessels are still blocking the ship channel.

Some 550 people are responding to the emergency and the Texas Responder, a 210-foot oil recovery vessel, is on scene.

The Sabine-Neches Ship Channel and Intracoastal Waterway have been closed near the Port. The channel remains closed to shipping until the spill is cleared.

The ongoing remediation of the oil spill is a joint effort between Texas General Land Office, the U.S. Coast Guard and the responsible party. The tanker is owned by American Eagle Tankers, a Malaysian company with offices in Houston.

Residents and workers in and around the Port of Port Arthur were evacuated Saturday morning after the tanker and the barge both released noxious fumes of hydrogen sulfide, a colorless, flammable gas that smells like rotten eggs. After about nine hours, Port Arthur Police lifted the mandatory evacuation. No injuries were reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard says that about half the spilled oil, 220,053 gallons, have been recovered, evaporated or dispersed naturally. Of that amount, about 46,200 gallons have been recovered, officals said.

The oil remaining aboard the tanker and the barge was pumped out today, the Coast Guard said.

The tanker Eagle Otome and a barge collide in Port Arthur. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Today, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office Jerry Patterson announced that an environmentally sensitive area in Port Arthur has so far remained untouched the oil spill, due to the efforts of a special state agency task force.

“Thanks to the immediate response of the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention and Response Team, dangerous crude oil from the spill has been contained to the ship channel,” Patterson said. “Texans can be confident that the best people in the nation are on the job and an environmental crisis has been averted.”

The containment boom has kept the oil out of Keith Lake Cut, a passageway to Keith Lake in the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, one of the most pristine estuarine reserves in the state. The reserve is inhabited by the endangered Pig Frog and it hosts the Taylor Bayou Rookery, an important nesting area for numerous waterfowl. So far, only two oiled birds have been reported.

The General Land Office has mobilized a highly specialized wildlife cleaning trailer to care for any oiled animals.

To avoid any further impact on migratory birds, the Land Office has mobilized a “bird scare cannon,” a device that lets out a frightening boom to scare birds away from the area.

“Our Oil Spill Prevention and Response Team is world-renowned for its preparedness and response capability,” Patterson said. “In other states, this could have been an environmental disaster – but here in Texas, we know how to take care of our coast. Texans should be proud.”

By law, the Texas General Land Office is the lead state agency for preventing and responding to oil spills in the marine environment.

To report oiled wildlife, contact 1-888-709-9798. The public should not attempt to capture any oiled wildlife.

A claims number has been established for this incident. To report a claim, please call 866-310-3831.

The Coast Guard is conducting a joint investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board into the incident, and says that all parties are fully participating.

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