Fire causes $1 million in damage to pushboat at Houston terminal

A pushboat moored at a chemical refinery in the Houston Ship Channel caught fire and sustained heavy damage.

The fire aboard the 2,000-hp San Gabriel was reported at about midnight on Feb. 26 as the vessel was tied up along the LyondellBasell facility in Houston. The vessel was “engulfed” in flames when fire crews arrived shortly after the emergency call, the Coast Guard said. 

There were several crewmembers on board when the fire started but all made it off safely, said Jennifer Nease, a spokeswoman for Coast Guard Sector Houston. There were no injuries or environmental damage stemming from the incident. 

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the cause of the fire. Nease declined to comment on possible sources of ignition or the location of the fire on the vessel. She would not say if any other vessels at the terminal were damaged. 

“The investigation is still ongoing,” Nease said in a recent phone interview. “We are unable to provide specific details.”

“The San Gabriel was not conducting any operations at the time, it was just moored up,” she said, adding that the vessel was tied up next to an empty sulfur barge.

LyondellBasell is a multinational petrochemical and fuel company, and its U.S. operations are based in Houston. The company did not respond to emails seeking comment on the fire or its response. 

Fire crews from the LyondellBasell plant, the city of Houston and the Port of Houston responded to the burning vessel. The Coast Guard sent a 29-foot response boat to the scene to meet with firefighters, Nease said. 

According to the Houston Fire Department’s incident report, city crews arrived at about 0005. Lyondell and city fire crews boarded the pushboat to extinguish the fire, which was visible from the lower deck and the weather deck. 

“The fire was brought under control about 10 minutes later,” the report said. 

The cause of ignition has not been determined and is still under investigation. Total damage to the vessel and its equipment was estimated at $1.06 million. 

The Coast Guard established a safety zone around the refinery from about 0015 to 0200 on Feb. 26. Authorities briefly closed the channel, although Nease said it reopened after only a few minutes. 

Responders placed containment boom around the pushboat to prevent environmental damage. Authorities later determined that no oil products escaped from the vessel, which can hold up to 23,000 gallons of fuel.  

The Port of Houston confirmed the agency sent two of its boats, Fire Boat 1 and Fire Boat 2, to assist with firefighting efforts, according to agency spokeswoman Lisa Ashley. 

Buffalo Marine Service of Houston owns the 75-foot-long pushboat, which was built in 1990. Tom Marian, the company’s general counsel, declined to comment on the cause of the fire, citing the ongoing NTSB investigation. 

San Gabriel was towed to Buffalo Marine’s facility at Brady Island after the fire was extinguished, according to the Coast Guard. Marian said it’s not clear if the vessel can be repaired. 

By Professional Mariner Staff