PORT ARTHUR SPILL
Coast Guard reveals details, but no cause to oil spill
By JENNIFER LATSON
Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
Jan. 26, 2010, 11:05PM
A clearer picture emerged Tuesday of the collision
that triggered the biggest Texas oil spill in 15 years,
as cleanup efforts continued apace
and officials planned to reopen the waterway by Thursday.
While Coast Guard officials have not released details of a possible cause for the wreck,
a chain reaction began when the Eagle Otome,
an 800-foot tanker loaded with Mexican crude oil, veered
inexplicably off course and into the path of an oncoming barge,
slamming into a cargo carrier moored at the port of Port Arthur.
In the narrow section of shipping channel,
there was nowhere for the barge to go but forward, into the Eagle Otome's hull.
Both crashes occurred within a matter of seconds — no more than a minute
or two, shortly after 9:30 a.m., officials said.
“If you were on a two-lane highway in a car,
it would be the same as veering to the left and hitting a parked car in the shoulder.
Then an oncoming vehicle hits you,” said Floyd Gaspard, the port's executive director.
“Unlike on the highway, if you slam on the brakes you don't skid to a stop.
They can shut the engine off, throw it in reverse, but it will not stop the forward
movement. If they could have, they would have.”
The Eagle Otome was piloting upriver from the Gulf of Mexico on the Sabine-Neches Waterway,
headed toward Exxon Mobil's Beaumont refinery.
It crossed out of its shipping lane to the left, hitting
a moored cargo carrier off-loading Brazilian wood pulp at the port.
Meanwhile, the barge was headed down-river with a load of chemicals
when it hit the ship's starboard side.
Coast Guard officials originally reported that an unexpected power loss
forced the Eagle Otome off course,
but they have since retracted that report without offering an alternate explanation.
They are reviewing radio transmissions and the ship's log and are interviewing witnesses
to piece together the moments before the crash,
which ripped a hole in the tanker's hull and spilled 462,000 gallons of oil.