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NOAA Responds to Oil Spill in Sabine-Neches Waterway near Port Arthur, Texas

close up of barge collision

On the morning of January 23, a collision occurred between the towing vessel Dixie Vengeance and the two barges it was pushing and the 807-foot tank ship Eagle Otome. As shown in this U.S. Coast Guard photo, as a result of the collision, the Eagle Otome sustained damage in the vicinity of the number one starboard tank, which was reported to be loaded with crude oil.

Staff from the Office of Response and Restoration are on-scene near Port Arthur, Texas, where a major oil spill occurred on Saturday, January 23. That morning, the towing vessel Dixie Vengeance and the two barges it was pushing collided with the tank ship Eagle Otome, ripping a 15-foot-by-8-foot hole in the tanker’s starboard cargo tank. As a result of the damage, the Eagle Otome spilled some 10,000 barrels (420,000 gallons) of crude oil into the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which runs along the border between Texas and Louisiana from Beaumont, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico.

The barges, which were loaded with partially refined oil, were damaged but did not release any material.  The Eagle Otome, a double-hulled tank ship owned by a Malaysian global shipping company, was carrying 570,000 barrels (24 million gallons) of crude oil to the Exxon Mobil refinery in Beaumont when the incident occurred.

Drawing of the ICC

A U.S. Coast Guard worker stands on the bow of an oil-skimming vessel during operations to clean up the 450,000-gallon oil spill in the Sabine-Neches Waterway.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which heads up the Unified Command to oversee the aftermath of the spill, closed the Sabine-Neches Waterway to all commercial and recreational vessels. The heavily traveled waterway is a vital link in the nation’s oil refining chain, representing approximately 6.5 percent of the nation’s gasoline refining capacity; thus, reopening the route and restoring commerce are top priorities.
Following the collision, local law enforcement agencies confirmed reports of noxious fumes coming from both vessels, and the U.S. Coast Guard informed NOAA that hydrogen sulfide gas may have been released from the spilled oil. Because breathing high levels of this gas can be lethal, residents and workers in and around the port were evacuated as a precaution. The levels of hydrogen sulfide were later determined not to be hazardous and the mandatory evacuation was lifted at 6 p.m. Saturday evening.

When the U.S. Coast Guard is the Federal On-Scene Coordinator at the site of an oil spill or other HAZMAT incident, the Office of Response and Restoration provides scientific support that includes predicting where the oil is going and what its effects may be, identifying resources at risk, providing weather forecasts, planning for shoreline cleanup, and participating in over flights to collect data and video footage.

NOAA will also coordinate with other state and federal trustees to assess injuries to natural resources and lost human uses. The trustees’ activities lay the foundation for restoration plans, and ultimately help the federal government determine whether the parties responsible for the spill should be required to pay damages toward restoring the injured resource.