Captains dialogue unable to avoid Houston Ship Channel collision

By Incidenti

Recordings have revealed that the captains of the two ships that collided in the Houston Ship Channel spoke prior to collision, but it was not enough to avoid the crash. They were aware of how close they were, but failed to prevent the oil spill.

The U.S. Coast Guard audio recordings have shown that the captains started speaking frantically about five minutes before the accident. Apparently, it was too late to avoid the contact in the heavy waterway crowded with container vessels. The captain of Summer Wind, bulk carrier and larger of the two vessels in the collision, has been recorded saying:

"If you keep on going, I'm going to get you. Captain, I can cut her back. I can go dead slow, but that still ain't going to stop it because I'm coming up on half a mile of you."

The captain of the oil barge, that was towing 2 barges loaded with a million gallons of oil, heard the warning and made an attempt to back out of the channel at full speed of the vessel. The visibility was less than a mile because of heavy fog. While trying to do the maneuver, the captain of the barges has been recorded saying:

"I'm looking at you now and it don't look good."

Seconds later, the bulk carrier sideswiped one of the barges. That caused a puncture which resulted in dense, sticky oil leakage into the Galveston Bay. It has reached the Texas coast and the Gulf of Mexico.  

The collision on March 22 closed for several days one of the busiest seaports in the world stopping the marine traffic in the area. 

According to Petty Officer Andy Kendrick, U.S. Coast Guard representative, the bay is being cleaned and the affected animals are being treated in centers for rehabilitation. He added that 168 birds, 21 dolphins and 4 sea turtles have already died because of the oil spill.  

Buzz Botts, education coordinator of Padre Island National Seashore, said that nearly 3% of the sand on the northern part of the island (Padre Island is 220 miles southeast of the site of the collision) has been contaminated and a lot of seabirds have been covered with oil. 

"A lot of the effects to wildlife at this point are hard to gauge," he added.

The cause of the accident is still being investigated. According to the deputy director for the Texas General Land Office's oil spill response division, Greg Pollock, the Texas law considers Kirby Inland Marine Corp. (Houston-based), the company carrying the oil, a responsible party. 

According to the U.S. Office of Inspector General, the Coast Guard have no adequate processes to investigate accidents or take any corrective actions. A report from May 2013 says that the backlogged investigations till then were 6,000. 

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