Two barges collided in the Houston Ship Channel early Monday morning, sparking a fire on one of the vessels that lasted for four hours, releasing a volatile chemical, and leading to a closure of the Intracoastal Waterway that extended late into the day.

About 1:20 a.m., the tugboat Captain Shorty C, a Kirby Inland Marine vessel, was pushing two barges eastbound. The barges were filled with cumene, which is an additive for gasoline. Heading westbound and pushing two barges was the tugboat Jackie, owned by Enterprise Marine Services. These barges were loaded with about 1 million gallons each of naphtha, a flammable petroleum product used a gasoline component and solvent.

The tugboats were crossing the ship channel where it intersects with the Intracoastal Waterway at Bolivar Peninsula when the Captain Shorty C lost power, allowing one of its barges to crash into a barge towed by the Jackie.

While no injuries were immediately reported in the barge collision, a fire was ignited on the vessel loaded with naphtha, which raged until about 5:25 a.m. when it was extinguished by a Port of Houston fireboat, with help from a T&T Marine Salvage vessel, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick.

Kendrick said it was uncertain whether the fire burned diesel fuel or the naphtha.

The waterway was closed from mile marker 348 to the ship channel until Monday afternoon, and a Texas General Land Office spokesman said there was little chance of the naphtha polluting the waterway because of its quick evaporation rate. Air quality monitoring showed not public hazard.

Of the four barges involved, three were damaged. Officials were working to stabilize the naphtha-containing barge so the cargo could be safely removed, while the other three barges were already towed away.

Dangerous Waterway

The Houston Ship Channel, the 2nd busiest waterway in the U.S., has seen at least four vessel collisions this year alone; last year, seven were reported. As many as 800 vessels travel the channel on any given day.

This is also not the first incident in the Houston Ship Channel involving a Kirby Inland Marine vessel. In March 2014, a Kirby-owned barge was struck by a bulk carrier near the Texas City Dike, causing one of the barge’s fuel tanks to rupture and sening an estimated 168,000 gallons of oil spilling into the waterway.

The Houston Jones Act attorneys of Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers have helped many clients in claims against Kirby Inland Marine and other major maritime companies. If you are injured in a vessel collision, contact us today for assistance.