Houston — Two tugboats that were towing a total of four barges near the Houston Ship Channel collided early Monday morning, causing a fire on one barge that was carrying naphtha, US Coast Guard official Joergens Reno said.
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The collision, which occurred around 1 am CDT (0600 GMT) Monday near the Bolivar Peninsula, caused the USCG to shut the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between the Houston Ship Channel and Bolivar Light 13A "until further notice."
The Houston Ship Channel, though, remains open to all vessel traffic, said Reno, noting that the waterway that was shut mainly saw barge traffic and some recreational vessels, not tankers.
According to Reno, one of the tow vessels was pulling three barges, while a second tow vessel was pulling one barge when the collision occurred. The accident was due to one of the tugboats losing power.
As a result, one of the barges -- which was carrying naphtha -- caught fire. The fire was extinguished about four hours later and damage assessments are ongoing.
"We haven't had any reports of a leak. I'm not saying there wasn't one, but we haven't had reports of it yet. Damage assessment is ongoing," said Reno.
"We are currently trying to get the three barges that were not on fire out of the area, while [work continues] on the one that was on fire. The fear now is reflash, or the fire reoccurring as the liquid is still very hot," said Reno.
The four barges were owned by Kirby and Enterprise, according to Reno. According to shipping sources, no delays were seen to tanker traffic along the Houston Ship Channel as a result of the incident.
USGC NAPHTHA MARKET UNFAZED
Meanwhile, in the naphtha market, cash market differentials in Houston were unchanged around midday CDT, with sources saying the amount of petroleum involved in the collision was not large enough to make a difference to spot trading. No trades for standard naphtha had been heard, and the barge with the naphtha on board did not belong to any of the major trading houses with operations in Houston, sources said.
"We're hearing no impact on the [Houston Ship Channel], and it's really too early for this to make a difference," a US refined products trader said.
Sources reported ample recent supplies of the blendstock in the market, a situation that has been reflected in weakness in the naphtha cash market. Since June 1, the USGC spot naphtha price has averaged 79.99% of the front-month RBOB futures contract. In the same period a year earlier, naphtha averaged 90.81% of front-month RBOB.