As much as 450,000 gallons (1.7 million litres) of crude oil may have spilled in a southeast Texas port when two vessels collided Saturday morning, but it’s unclear whether that much actually leaked from the damaged tank, a U.S. Coast Guard official said.
No one was injured in the collision, but the port of Port Arthur was closed and some nearby residents were evacuated for about seven hours.
The damaged tanker, the Eagle Atome, is owned by AET Tankers, a Malaysian company with offices in Houston.
AET said in a statement that it was working with authorities to determine how much crude had spilled.
According to Petty Officer Richard Brahm, the ship’s crew members said they pumped 69,000 barrels from the damaged tank that carried 80,000 barrels, so they have 11,000 barrels -- about 450,000 gallons -- that they can’t account for.
Several local officials said only 1,000 barrels, or about 42,000 gallons (158,000 litres), of oil had been spilled into the water.
Brahm acknowledged that it doesn’t look like hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude was in the water. He said some might still be in the damaged tank.
“We can’t get in there and look at it,” he said.
Port Arthur police Sgt. Ken Carona told television station KFDM that fewer than 100 people were evacuated from the area. He said hydrogen sulfide -- a hazardous gas with a rotten egg smell -- was emanating from the oil. He told the station that the levels aren’t hazardous, but are a nuisance.
The mandatory evacuation order was lifted about 6 p.m., said Mike Free, a battalion chief with the Port Arthur fire department. He said he didn’t know when the ships would be separated, but they would re-evaluate whether to order another evacuation then. He said the vessels were not expected to be separated Saturday night.
He said fire department monitors were no longer detecting hydrogen sulfide.
Greg Fountain, the Jefferson County emergency management coordinator, said there could be a risk of an explosion when the two metal vessels are separated.
“You never know where a fire source might come from,” said Fountain, who said that a shelter was set up for evacuees at the city’s recreation centre.
Fire department spokeswoman Angell Thibodeaux said a 28-block area downtown was evacuated.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Renee Aiello said the crude spilled when an 800-foot (244-meter) tanker carrying oil collided with a towing vessel pushing two barges.
The crash left a 15 foot by 8-foot hole (4.5-meter by 2.5-meter) in the tanker, Aiello said. The towing vessel then hit another tanker that was tied to a pier. Brahm said that tanker sustained some damage, but had no leaks.
Brahm said the Coast Guard, which is in charge of the cleanup, had contained the spilled oil with floating plastic barriers.
Port Arthur is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Houston.