Fuel barge pokes a hole in a tanker, spilling 25,000 gallons of oil in a Texas river

An estimated 25,200 gallons of No. 6 oil spilled in the Neches River near Port Arthur, Texas, when fuel barge Buffalo 405 struck and pierced the hull of the 528-foot Danish oil tanker Torm Mary during a fueling operation on Aug. 2, at about 0020.

Booms surround Torm Mary and San Tomas after the tanker and tug were involved in a collision.
   Image Credit: Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Andrew Kendrick

As a result of the accident, the river was closed to vessels for two days. During the closure seven outbound ships, six inbound ships and 70 barges were delayed.

The barge, owned by Buffalo Marine Service and pushed by the tug San Tomas, was approaching the tanker, which was in the Sun Anchorage. The barge’s rub rail struck Torm Mary at the starboard aft quarter between 6 and 8 feet above the waterline at a point where the fuel tank and machinery space were separated. The impact resulted in a hole 4 feet long and 6 feet wide in the tanker’s hull and caused a leak in the vessel’s fuel tank. The cargo tanks, which were full at the time, were not affected. Weather conditions were good at the time of the accident.

The U.S. Coast Guard would not say whether equipment problems or human error were factors in the accident, which remains under investigation.

According to Lt. Ian Bird of Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Port Arthur, the captain of Torm Mary immediately began transferring fuel from the leaking fuel tank, and the crew attempted to block the hole in the hull with anything they could find. Booms were deployed and cleanup efforts commenced.

Bird said there was very little damage to the barge.

Image Credit: Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Gary Sanchez

Oil slick is visible on the Neches River near Port Arthur, Texas.

He said temporary repairs were made to Torm Mary on site. The ship then departed to the Gulf of Mexico at 2325 on Aug. 9. Permanent repairs and a class inspection were expected within a month.

Cleanup efforts continued. Following the incident, a section of the Neches River from Buoy 42 (north of the DuPont plant and the Naval Reserve Fleet) to the Veterans Bridge was closed to all vessel traffic. Coast Guard and state officials examined a 44-mile stretch of the river and determined that 28 miles had been affected by the spill. Cleanup costs are expected to be approximately $4.5 million.

The river was opened to commercial traffic at 1144 on Aug. 4, although a safety zone has been established just north of the DuPont plant and just to the south of Port Neches Park. Recreational boaters will not be allowed in the safety zone until all of the oil has been removed.

By Professional Mariner Staff