A tanker collided with a two-barge tow in the Houston Ship Channel, nearly severing one barge and causing the other to roll over and sink.
The 754-foot Genesis River T-boned the starboard barge in the tow pushed by Voyager during the afternoon of May 10 at Light 73 near Bayport, Texas. More than 11,000 barrels of gasoline blending stock spilled into the waterway. No one on board the tugboat or the Panama-flagged ship reported any injuries.
The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident and have not released the probable cause.
“Both barges were side by side. The right barge got a direct hit,” said Petty Officer Kelly Parker, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Houston. “It was almost split in two from that hit. The second barge, from the force, it kind of lifted up on its side and got overtaken by water and flipped and capsized.”
The very large gas carrier (VLGC) Genesis River was inbound in the channel, while the tow was outbound. AIS data shows Voyager and barges 30015T and MNI 3041 operating on the right side of the channel when Genesis River suddenly veers to port. Voyager’s pilot initially turned to starboard then steered sharply to port as the ship approached.
Genesis River turned back to starboard as it encountered the shallower barge channel and smashed into 30015T on the starboard side. The force of the collision caused MNI 3041 to roll over and sink with its bottom side up. The chain of events led to speculation that the ship lost its steering before the incident, but the Coast Guard declined to comment when asked about a possible steering failure.
The Houston Pilots, whose pilot was aboard Genesis River at the time, declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Houston-based Kirby Corp., the owner of the tugboat and barges, declined to comment for the same reason.
Authorities closed the Houston Ship Channel from Light 61 to Light 75 immediately after the collision. A day later, the waterway opened to one-way ship traffic and barge traffic in both directions. Nearly 100 vessels traveling in both directions were delayed at one point on May 12.
Each barge was loaded with about 25,000 barrels of reformate, a potentially toxic gasoline additive. Numerous fish, a raccoon and at least three birds died from the spill.
Spill response teams placed more than 20,000 feet of containment boom around the damaged barges and along the nearby shoreline to prevent additional contamination. Air quality readings remained below action stages in the vicinity of the incident.
Seven skimmers were used to collect the spilled product. They collected more than 3,800 barrels of reformate mixed with water, the Coast Guard said. The agency estimates 11,276 barrels reached the waterway, all from the barge struck by the ship. The sunken barge did not spill any reformate, Parker said.
Salvage crews used a method called “cold tapping” to offload product in the sunken barge, which came to rest just outside the channel. That vessel was moved to Barbour’s Cut Turning Basin for lightering on May 15. That same day, the barge struck by Genesis River was moved to Southwest Shipyard in Channelview.
Genesis River, which was delivered in 2018, sustained hull damage in the incident but did not take on water, Parker said. The ship remained at anchor for nearly a week after the collision. AIS data shows it departed Houston for the Suez Canal on May 25.
Japanese shipper Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd., or “K” Line, owns Genesis River, and Gyxis Corp. chartered it. Attempts to reach both companies for comment were not successful.