GALVESTON, Texas (USATODAY.com) — Crews worked skimming boats and pulled thousands of feet of boom around sensitive marshes Monday to try to contain an oil spill in Galveston Bay, as environmentalists and birdwatchers tracked dozens of oiled birds in the area.
More than 71,000 feet of boom was deployed to try to corral the heavy bunker fuel oil and 27 boats were motoring through area waterways, trying to skim oil or otherwise contain the spill, according to the Coast Guard, which is leading the recovery effort. Seven birds have been recovered with oil so far — three of which were found dead.
Ferry service between Galveston and Port Bolivar reopened Monday afternoon, two days after a tanker collision dumped some 168,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the water. But the Houston Ship Channel remained closed as of late Monday afternoon, tying up barge traffic and cruise ships.
The location of the spill near bird habitats and the type of crude spilled — a thick variant used to power oceangoing ships — made it a significant spill, said Jim Suydam, a spokesman with the Texas General Land Office, which represents Texas in the recovery effort.
"This particular type of fuel oil and the proximity of shorebird habitat made this a pretty serious spill," he said.
An oceangoing freight vessel and a tank barge pushed by a towboat collided at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday near the intersection of the Intracoastal Waterway and Houston Ship Channel, ripping open one of the barge's container tanks and dumping an estimated 168,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the water, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Sam Danus said. The cause of the collision is still under investigation, Danus said.
The barge, owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine Corp., was carrying about 900,000 gallons of the bunker fuel at the time, but most of it went unscathed, he said.
Jim Guidry, a Kirby executive, has said the company — the nation's largest operator of inland barges —would pay for the cleanup. "We're very concerned. We're focused on cleaning up," he said.
Shortly after the collision was called in, teams of crews dispatched into the waterways to skim the oil and boom was set up to launch the following day, Danus said. More than 380 personnel are working on boats and on shorelines, while 200 more are working from a unified command center set up in nearby Texas City, he said.
The spill came at the start of the migrating and nesting season for many of the shorebirds in the area, said Alice Anne O'Donnell, a board member and volunteer with the Houston Audubon Society.
Contributing: Associated Press