Barge T-bones tanker, carving 11-foot gash in ballast tank

An empty oil tanker and a barge loaded with xylene collided in a heavily trafficked section of the Houston Ship Channel in Galveston, Texas, causing a breach in one of the tanker's ballast tanks.

The 900-foot Naticina was en route from Texas City to Africa at about 0800 on Aug. 17, 2011, when it collided with MMI 3024, a 297-foot tank barge, in a section of the channel known as Pelican Cut, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The barge was one of two being pushed by Alliance, a 72-foot tugboat owned by Higman Barge Lines of Houston.

Coast Guard Lt. Derricka Fortson, chief investigations officer at Marine Safety Unit Texas City, said the "T-bone" impact between the bow of the barge and the starboard side of Naticina left the tanker with an 11-foot gash in a forward ballast tank. There was also a secondary impact that didn't penetrate the hull, she said.

After the collision, the Coast Guard instructed Naticina to proceed to the Galveston Fairway Anchorage so inspectors could evaluate the extent of the damage. The tanker, owned by STASCO Ship Management of London, was not carrying cargo.

"A replace-in-kind was done to repair the damage, with new steel being welded (to the ship)," Fortson said. "Marine inspectors and class surveyors oversaw repairs and the vessel is now back in service."

The Higman barge, bound for the Bolivar Roads Anchorage from Pelican Island Moorings with 20,000 barrels of xylene, sustained minor damage — a 12-inch fracture in the headlog, Fortson said. The tug and the other barge, which was also carrying xylene, were not damaged.

John Costello, manager of safety and vetting for Higman, said the barge continued to its destination after the collision and later required about $1,000 in repairs.

Fortson would not comment on whether the tanker and tug had been in radio contact before the collision or if either captain had taken evasive action, saying the incident was still under investigation. Skies were clear and no mechanical problems had been reported on either vessel.

Costello said the captain of Alliance is "very experienced" and has worked at Higman for more than 25 years. Officials at STASCO could not be reached for comment about the captain of Naticina or the cost of repairs.

Costello called Pelican Cut "a very heavily trafficked area," with Fortson describing the channel as "one of the busiest" in the United States. She said other vessels were in the area at the time of the collision, but she could not specify how many.

"All indications are that it happened during a busy time of day, but no busier than what it normally is," Fortson said.

Oil spill response personnel were dispatched to the scene, but no pollution was reported from the tanker or the barge, the Coast Guard said. No injuries were reported.

Fortson said 24 crewmembers were aboard Naticina, while Alliance was carrying a four-man crew. She said drug and alcohol tests were conducted, but the results had not been received at press time.

By Professional Mariner Staff