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Monday, March 24, 2014

collision in Galveston Bay - oil spillage feared

Galveston Bay is one among the largest estuaries in the United States, located along the upper coast of Texas. It is connected to the Gulf of Mexico and is surrounded by sub-tropic marshes and prairies on the mainland. The water in the Bay is a complex mixture of sea water and fresh water which supports a wide variety of marine life.

Mishaps do occur – some are sudden, accidental, fortuitous.  All adventures carry certain risk element. Some risks can be insured against. Marine insurance primarily concerns movement of goods by sea ~ and the carrier is ships – there are variety of ships that set to conquer the ocean,  ferrying cargo.  A vessel, howsoever big it is could still suffer a setback by so many perils, especially – the perils of the sea.  Perils of the Sea are fortuitous accidents or casualties peculiar to navigable waters in the nature of violent waves or wind (not ordinary action of winds and waves), collision, striking submerged objects, running aground and sinking.  

Collision is the act of colliding;  coming violently into contact; crash. A collision is an isolated event in which two or more bodies (colliding bodies) exert relatively strong forces on each other for a relatively short time. Collisions involve forces and there is a change in velocity. In traffic such a collision can be between two vehicles, a vehicle and a person, a vehicle and an object, two persons or a person and an object (and more if an animal is involved). It is an accident or even a disaster. In Marine insurance , collision is a named peril in Inland transit basic cover and ‘Institute cargo clauses – C’.

At land vehicles colliding is understandable - but at sea ? Ocean is quite unfathomable. Steering (navigating) a ship is quite complex and different from the way we drive our vehicles on road. In earlier days, Explorers started their sojourns to unknown destinations with no idea what they would find along the way. Being stuck on a leaky, wooden boat for months with little or nothing to eat and drink was not much of fun. Disease, starvation and death faced them all. Life has moved a long way since … there are advanced navigational equipments which include satellite assistance [don’t ask why MH 370 still remains untraced !]

Officials believe a tank containing 168,000 gallons of especially thick oil is leaking into Galveston Bay…. In a case of collision – a  barge carrying almost one million gallons of thick, sticky oil collided with a ship in Galveston Bay near Houston, Texas Saturday afternoon creating a huge oil slick. Authorities are uncertain of how much marine fuel oil is leaking from the barge, though as of 10 p.m. Saturday local time, crews had yet to contain the spill, the Associated Press reported.

The captain of the 585-foot ship Summer Wind called the collision into the Coast Guard at 12:30 p.m., shortly after the incident. The barge, which was being towed by the tugboat Miss Susan from Texas City to Bolivar, was carrying 924,000 gallons of fuel. It is feared to a case of large oil slick in Galveston Bay, Texas – there are apprehensions that one of the barge's fuel tanks was punctured.  What caused collision, which was at fault and whether weather had a role to play – all cannot be determined at this too preliminary stage.

Galveston Daily News  reports that marine traffic into and out of the ports of Galveston and Texas has been suspended. A boom was set up around the collision site to prevent oil from reaching environmentally sensitive areas. In addition, crews were working throughout the night to skim oil off the surface of the bay. However, cleanup could take some time due to the type of oil that is leaking. The oil was described as 'sticky, gooey, thick, tarry stuff' – which is difficult to clean up.  The oil is also known as bottom of the barrel oil since it is so thick. Because it does not evaporate quickly, the cleanup would likely take days, says Experts.  In the clean-up efforts mild weather and calm water would assist; while storms and rough weather would be detrimental.

It is a cause of concern as the area is home to popular bird habitats, especially during the approaching migratory shorebird season – initial reports suggest no wildlife being impacted.  The Texas City dike, a popular fishing spot that goes out into the Gulf for a few miles, is also closed. 

Photo of bulk carrier (not the one involved)
Courtesy : www.

A barge is a flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods. Some barges are not self-propelled and need to be towed or pushed by towboats. A bulk carrier, bulk freighter, or bulker is a merchant ship specially designed to transport unpackaged bulk cargo, such as grains, coal, ore, and cement in its cargo holds.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
24th Mar 2013.

News and photo courtesy :

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