Three vessels collided in Port Arthur, Texas yesterday.  Parts of the intracoastal waterway near the Port of Port Arthur, Texas were closed after the Saturday morning collision. About 450,000 gallons of crude oil spilled when a 600-foot oil tanker collided bound for Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Beaumont, Texas refinery with an outbound towing vessel pushing a loaded barge.  The tanker’s power had gone out and the captain was no logner able to control the movements of the large vessel.

The U.S. Coast Guard said that the towing vessel and the two barges it was pushing tore a hole on the side of the 807-foot tanker Eagle Otome, spilling about 11,000 barrels of crude oil.

The incident involved vessels chartered by ExxonMobil subsidiary companies, according to a company representative.

“ExxonMobil is very concerned about this unfortunate incident. The vessels we charter to transport our products meet rigorous safety standards,” the Exxon statement said. Exxon said the tanker, owned by Malaysia-based AET Incorporated Ltd., was carrying crude to its Beaumont, Texas refinery.

The Coast Guard established a perimeter around the spill which at least one Guard member has called “a big one.”Additionally, classifications by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd., which tracks oil spills around the world, rate large spills as anything over 700 metric tons.  The Port Arthur spill is estimated at about 1,500 metric tons.

Exxon, the largest U.S. oil company still struggles with its image after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, which released 11 million gallons of crude in Alaska’s Prince William sound, sparked a multi-year legal battle, and cost the company about $1 billion in punitive damages plus interest.

The crash left a 15-by-8-foot hole in the tanker.  The towing vessel then hit another tanker that was tied to a pier.

As a result of the collision, the Port of Port Arthur and residents on the west end were evacuated due to fumes and a possible fire hazard, but were safely returned home shortly thereafter.

The Sabine Neches Waterway is closed to all vessel traffic along Port Arthur’s river front.  This closure will continue to cause a major delay in vessel travel up and down the Gulf Coast.  Port of Port Arthur is midway on the barge shipping routes of the intracoastal waterway that extends from St. Marks, Florida to Brownsville, Texas.  Port Arthur is about 1 1/2 hours east of Houston, Texas

Texas and Louisiana house at least 40% of the United States refining capacity, and the Port Arthur area has some of the country’s biggest fuel-making complexes.  Saturday’s oil spill will make some waves for our Gulf Coast refineries that use the port of Port Arthur for shipments of crude, but should not impact oil and gas prices unless the port stays closed for a lengthy period, because the weak economy created a surplus of gasoline and other transportation fuels.  On an average day, 150 barges and 15 tankers pass through the waterway.  Port Arthur, is home to key fuel-producing facilities for Motiva refinery, Total SA, and Valero Energy Corp.  The majority of crude arrives into the port as opposed to through pipelines, and a shutdown of the waterway for more than a few days will have an impact on the local refinery industry.

The companies that own and operate the vessels involved in this collision as well as the United States Coast Guard are in the process of investigating the causes of the accident.  Whoever caused the collision may be held liable for property damage to any vessels or equipment and any injuries caused.  Our firm has handled many injury cases stemming from vessel collisions and recently concluded a six-figure settlement for an injury that occurred when two vessels collided in the Mississippi River near New Orleans, Louisiana.

If you are injured while working offshore, you must consult with an experienced maritime lawyer about your case.  Our firm handles cases in all fifty states of the United States and around the world and has done so for over 45 years.  We are the expert maritime attorneys at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers and we represent injured offshore workers. Contact us for a free legal consultation at (713) 364-0723 or via email at [email protected].