Coast Guard investigating Hurricane Ike related pollution incidents

WASHINGTON — U.S. Coast Guard units operating in the Houston – Galveston area of responsibility have as of 4 p.m. Tuesday processed 51 reports of pollution and repaired or replaced 40 percent of critical aids to navigation damaged or missing in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

Of the 51 pollution reports, 15 incidents require active cleanup, 14 require passive action and 22 require no further action by the Coast Guard.

The reports cover a range of incidents including the discharge of petroleum products from storage tanks that have been damaged and/or are submerged in flood waters, the discharge of fuel from submerged machinery and sunken or damaged vessels in marinas, and natural gas leaks. Among the reports are the following incidents:

* A pipeline in Cameron, La., leaking natural gas from a valve currently under six feet of water.
* A report of an oil sheen in Galveston Bay, Texas, with a strong smell of petroleum that extends from Texas City to Galveston.
* A tank, bearing a placard indicating it may contain a toxic and/or corrosive material, that had floated onto a dock and requires removal.
* A report of a 1-mile long, heavy sheen, with a diesel smell near Hackberry, La.
* A report of diesel fuel leaking from two storage tanks in Harris County, Texas.
* A report of an unknown amount of oil released from a four-inch pipeline at Umbrella Point in Trinity Bay, Texas
* A 2,640-foot by 30-foot, light silver sheen coming from a toppled natural gas production platform in the Gulf of Mexico, East Cameron block 272. The sheen is reportedly coming from oil products stored on the platform for running equipment.
* A report of oil in the water coming from a pipeline or well head east of Baytown Marina, Harris County, Texas.

The Coast Guard is also investigating reports of 21 missing or damaged oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit in Houston reported 15 cargo containers were in the waters of Greens Bayou and 20 cargo containers were in the waters of Carpenters Bayou. Some of the containers were marked with hazardous materials placards but no sheen or visible release of pollutants was observed. All of the containers are secured and tug boats are preventing the containers from moving up channel. Up to 80 more cargo containers are reported to be in flood waters.

More than 25 personnel and their specialized equipment from the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic Strike Teams and the National Strike Force Coordination Center have been deployed to the area to help respond to and mitigate pollution incidents.

Port Conditions as of 3 p.m. Tuesday were as follows:

* New Orleans – Open
* Morgan City, La. – Open with restrictions
* Lake Charles, La. – Open to shallow draft traffic
* Orange, Texas – Open to shallow draft traffic
* Port Arthur/Beaumont, Texas – Open to shallow draft traffic
* Houston – Open to shallow draft traffic
* Texas City, Texas – Closed
* Galveston, Texas – Open with a 12-foot draft restriction
* Freeport, Texas – Closed
* Port Lavaca/Point Comfort, Texas – Closed
* Corpus Christi, Texas – Open
* The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is open from the Houston and Galveston area westward to Corpus Christi.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, there are 131 vessels awaiting access to the following ports:

* Lake Charles: 4
* Beaumont: 7
* Port Arthur: 16
* Galveston: 4
* Texas City: 7
* Houston: 86
* Freeport: 7

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port resumed tanker off loading and is also making deliveries to customers from its storage facilities.

Coast Guard aircraft sorties continue to focus on emergent search and rescue, port assessments, damage assessments and pollution reporting, in that order. There are currently nine fixed-wing and 25 rotary-wing assets dedicated to Hurricane Ike operations.

Other resources and personnel deployed to support Hurricane Ike operations include 19 personnel from the Deployable Operations Group, personnel and equipment from Marine Safety and Security Teams New Orleans, Boston, Sand Diego and Kings Bay, Ga. There are 16 Coast Guard cutters working in the Houston-Galveston area of responsibility with three more cutters enroute.

“Our Port Coordination Team efforts with port stakeholders are essential for a quick and efficient assessment of all captain of the port zone waterways,” said Capt. William Diehl, Captain of the Port Houston-Galveston. “Partnering with industry to restore navigation on waterways is essential in the process of reopening this economically critical port. An emphasis on safety is paramount to eliminate any further marine casualties during this period of navigation uncertainty.”

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