Port of Houston puts price tag on closure

October 5, 2010 9:22:57 AM PDT
The Coast Guard is working to reopen the Houston Ship Channel after a barge collided with a highline tower. Due to the accident, the Ship Channel is closed to marine traffic and it will remain closed until at least Tuesday or possibly Wednesday. The accident basically shut down the entire Ship Channel from mile marker 105 to124. So unless you are in a local vessel that is conducting business between those two markers or if you are outside of those two markers, you are basically out of luck. This could be the case until Tuesday or even early Wednesday, according to the Coast Guard.

That's a big problem because there are 18 inbound vessels waiting at the Ship Channel and 14 outbound. The longer this repair takes, the more that number will grow.

On Sunday at around 6am, a tug boat owned by American Electric Power was pushing three barges carrying scrap metal when it collided with an electrical tower that was fortunately under repair, so the lines were not live at the time.

Nineteen miles of waterway are affected by the Ship Channel closure. The Port of Houston says $322 million are lost each day it's closed. The Coast Guard has two cranes performing the work to try to clear the Channel as fast as possible. One of them is called 'Big John.'

"We have the crane, Big John, on scene and the Big John is going to connect to the tower to take the tension off the tower. Right now the tower is sitting partially on the barge and is probably being supported a little bit by the power lines that are there between the other towers," said Captain Markus Woodrings with the U.S. Coast Guard. "Once the Big John hooks up and takes the load on the tower, then CenterPoint energy can get up there, disconnect the line and reel them in and then we can cut the base of the tower, pick the tower up and put it over on the bank and get the Ship Channel open."

According to the Coast Guard, the six tug boat crew members were not injured in this accident. They have been tested for drugs and alcohol. However, those results have not yet been released. The incident is still under investigation. The tug boat's owner will be responsible for repairs.

There are 30 yachts that are stuck in downtown Houston, members of the Houston Yacht Club who can't get out because of t he closure.

The channel is the lifeline to the Port of Houston, the nation's leader in foreign waterborne tonnage and imports and runner-up in U.S. export tonnage and total tonnage.


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