Houston Ship Channel recovers from weekend disruption

Ships were once again Monday transiting the area of the Houston Ship Channel that was contaminated in late March by a chemical spill, after weather at the weekend disrupted traffic.

The U.S. Coast Guard on Sunday restricted outbound traffic along a portion of the Channel after severe storms halted clean-up operations.

The storms forced the closure of one site that was being used to check and decontaminate ships moving through the areas where fuel was found after the fire.

Operations in the upper portion of the waterway were significantly reduced on Sunday, USCG said.

Outbound traffic was restricted to daylight hours; inbound traffic continued.

The US Coast Guard said that 49 ships – 28 inbound, 21 outbound – were waiting to transit the 53-mile waterway between the US petrochemical port and the Gulf of Mexico on Monday April 8th.

That queue of ships was about normal for the channel, and was down significantly from nearly 150 ships queueing in the aftermath of a backlog that built up following a March 22nd chemical spill, caused by a dam failing at Mitsui & Co Intercontinental Terminals Deer Park, Texas. A blaze at 11 tanks from March 17th to 20th saw leaked gasoline-blending components shut the channel for three days.

Ships soon began moving again through the upper channel but were limited to daylight hours and restrictions on number, timing and direction.

This caused Shell’s Deer Park refinery to be within days of shutting down; Lyondell Basell Industries was forced to cut production at its Houston refinery.

As of Monday, ships were limited by a 15-minute spacing requirement and had to be inspected before entering and exiting the contaminated area