What caused collision near Texas City dike?

TEXAS CITY, TX (KTRK) -- A collision near the Texas City Dike more than two months ago closed the Houston Ship Channel for days.

It happened when a barge and a ship slammed into each other, spilling close 170,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

On Monday, the official investigation into that spill begins in a Galveston County courtroom.

The 585-foot ship Summer Wind and the oil barge ferried by the tow vessel Miss Susan into each other. It might not have looked like much, but that collision spilled 168,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Gulf, closing the Houston Ship Channel for days, halting commerce in and out of the Port of Houston, and igniting a cleanup effort involving thousands of people, miles of absorbent boom and millions of dollars

The Coast Guard is charged with figuring out what exactly happened. The lead investigator is Teresa Hatfield.

"We'll be examining witnesses, getting testimony and looking at some exhibits to see if we can pinpoint exactly what went wrong," she said.

Those examinations will happen inside the Galveston County courthouse. The hearing is open to the public.

The Coast Guard won't levy punishment from what it finds. Instead, investigators now working on this case since the spill happened in late March, will offer suggestions.

"The Coast Guard does not assess any kind of civil or criminal penalties against anybody," said Hatfield. "We are basically looking at the cause of the incident. Then we make recommendations to try to prevent these from happening in the future."

The Coast Guard estimates the public hearings could last through Friday.
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