Tankers collide near Texas after discussing a passing arrangement

Two large Houston-bound tankers carrying benzene and other petrochemicals collided in the Gulf of Mexico, apparently during a passing maneuver, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The 385-foot Chem Sea was overtaking the 557-foot Bow Kiso in open water about 70 miles east-southeast of Galveston, Texas, when the two ships collided, said PA2 Stephen Lehmann, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s Houston detachment.

Authorities still aren’t sure what caused the accident, which occurred at about 0430 on Feb. 20. Neither ship was seriously damaged.

“This could be the result of miscommunication between the two vessels or a mechanical failure or any number of things. We’ll have a much clearer idea when we conclude our investigation,” Lehmann said.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather buoy in the vicinity of the accident recorded roughly 20-mph winds around the time of the accident. The buoy does not collect wave data or water data.

“We’re looking at anything that might be considered a causative factor. Weather would fall in that category, but, as of yet, we’re unable to determine if that was what caused the collision,” Lehmann said.

The Panama-flagged Bow Kiso was carrying benzene, phenol and other chemicals and was bound for the Port of Houston from Lake Charles, La. The tanker is owned by Chemical Clipper Transports of Norway and managed by V. Ships, which did not return e-mailed requests for comment on the accident.

The Marshall Islands-flagged Chem Sea was carrying various petrochemicals. It also was en route to Houston, with a last port of call in New Orleans. Vessel owner Ace Tankers, of the Netherlands, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Coast Guard records show the two ships had discussed passing arrangements prior to the collision, Lehmann said.

The impact caused a fuel leak in Bow Kiso’s engine room, which its crew was able to control.

The ship had hull damage on the starboard side, aft section. Chem Sea had hull damage on its port side, forward section. Neither vessel’s hull was breached, Lehmann said.

A Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon jet from Air Station Corpus Christi and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Houston responded to the accident scene. Numerous flyovers by the two aircraft did not locate evidence of chemical spills.

Both vessels sailed under their own power to an anchorage just outside the Houston Ship Channel, where they were boarded by Coast Guard inspectors and ultimately given permission to transit into port.

By Professional Mariner Staff