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Crews work to contain oil from leaking barge in Texas

Emergency crews in Texas worked Sunday to contain 168,000 gallons of oil that leaked into Galveston Bay on Saturday from a barge that had collided with a ship, officials said.

Four skimming vessels remained overnight Saturday at the scene of the spill near Texas City, the U.S. Coast Guard said. They were joined Sunday morning by 20 response vessels, along with 90,000 feet of boom to help contain the oil.

Crews were removing cargo from the barge to raise it out of the water, where it was partly submerged, a spokesman for the Coast Guard said Sunday. The barge had been carrying 924,000 gallons of a particularly thick type of oil known as bunker fuel oil.

“The primary concern remains the safety of responders and the protection of the environment,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Only one of the barge’s oil tanks was breached, causing the approximately 168,000 gallons to leak into the water, the Coast Guard said. Industry and environmental observers consider that amount a moderate spill.

But the spill occurred along a bird migratory route at a time of seasonal migration, adding to the environmental concerns. The key to possible damage lay in how fast the oil could be recovered and removed.

It was unclear how long the cleanup would take, but the Coast Guard released a bulletin to mariners Sunday saying that parts of the Houston Ship Channel, near the site of the spill, could be closed for a week, or until the spill was cleared.

The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry, which carries passengers between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, was closed Sunday.

The Coast Guard said it received a call at 12:35 p.m. Saturday reporting a collision between the barge and a 585-foot bulk carrier ship, Summer Wind. A boat named Miss Susan was towing the barge from Texas City to the Bolivar Peninsula.

The six crew members onboard Miss Susan were accounted for and in stable condition, the Coast Guard said Saturday.

The barge and the tugboat are owned by Kirby Inland Marine, a tank barge operator. An executive at the company, Jim Guidry, told the Galveston County Daily News that the company was not taking the accident or the cleanup lightly.

“As a citizen and a resident of the Bay Area, we are very concerned about the incident and concerned about the effective cleanup of the environment around the bay,” Guidry said.