Missing sailor's body found in Houston Ship Channel

February 11, 2010 7:01:29 PM PST
The Coast Guard said it has recovered the body of a missing sailor from a sunken tugboat in the Houston Ship Channel. The male victim was found deceased by divers hired to dive on the vessel early Thursday afternoon. The cause of the man's death is under investigation by the County Medical Examiner's Office.

On Wednesday night around 10:30pm, the Coast Guard received a call that a tug boat had sank in the shipping channel with five people onboard. The Coast Guard responded with two boats and a helicopter in the search for the five people who went down with the JR Nichols, a 56-foot tugboat, in the ship channel near the Sims Bayou turning basin.

Four of the five crewmembers were pulled from the water after the accident Wednesday night by a Lyondell rescue team, then taken to a local hospital. The four were released after being treated for hypthermia. One crew member, however, had remained missing until the body was discovered Thursday by a salvage crew.

The JR Nichols was on its way to the Kinder-Morgan facility and was not hauling anything at the time of the accident.

"We still have a boat that is sunk in the ship channel, partially blocking the channel. It has approximately 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel onboard," said Captain Whitehead with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Whitehead said around 1,000 gallons of oil has spilled in ship channel. The shipping channel remains closed from the Sims Bayou turning basin to the Vopak facility until the vessel is salvaged and relocated.

The cause of the incident is under investigation but the initial reports from Kinder-Morgan indicate that the boat was caught up in the wake of another large vessel.