(New throughout, adds partial reopening of channel)
By Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba
HOUSTON, Sept 6 The Houston Ship Channel
re-opened to some vessel traffic on Tuesday afternoon, the U.S.
Coast Guard said, after an early morning tanker fire prompted
closure of the waterway.
The U.S. Coast Guard Houston Vessel Traffic Service said it
would commence with tow vessel transit outbound from Old River
and San Jacinto River. That would be followed by inbound
movements, it said.
The Houston Ship Channel links the busiest U.S.
petrochemical port to the Gulf of Mexico.
Four Houston-area refineries were unable to receive crude
oil from tankers on Tuesday after a portion of the channel was
shut by an early-morning fire aboard an empty tanker.
The fire began shortly after midnight CDT (0500 GMT) aboard
the 810-foot (247-meter) tanker the Aframax River and was
extinguished within a few hours. The ship was moved out of the
water way to a dock.
Only a light sheen from bunker fuel, a type of diesel, has
been seen in the channel, according to the Coast Guard.
The tanker caught fire near the intersection of Buffalo
Bayou and the San Jacinto River. The fire appeared to originate
in a punctured bunker fuel tank. No injuries were reported, the
Coast Guard said.
Because of the closure, Valero Energy Corp's and
LyondellBasell Industries' Houston refineries,
Petrobras' refinery in nearby Pasadena, Texas
and Royal Dutch Shell's joint venture in Deer Park,
Texas could not receive oil. The four refineries have crude
on-site in storage tanks and also have access to long-distance
and short-haul pipeline systems.
The four refineries have a combined crude oil throughput of
761,505 barrels per day (bpd), equal to 4 percent of U.S.
The channel had been closed to vessel traffic for one mile
(1.6 km) southwest from where the ship caught fire, the Coast
It said seven ships were waiting to exit the channel and
eight were waiting to enter on Tuesday afternoon.
Tankers were able to move to and from Exxon Mobil Corp's
560,500-bpd Baytown refinery, the Coast Guard said.
Tankers transiting the Houston Ship Channel supply five
refineries in the Houston metropolitan area and three refineries
in Texas City, Texas. The eight plants have a combined crude oil
throughput of 2.1 million barrels per day equal to 11.4 percent
of national refining capacity.
(Reporting by Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba in Houston, Apeksha
Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Trott)