Houston Ship Channel Closed to Traffic by Downed Line

The Houston Ship Channel is closed to all inbound and outbound traffic as the U.S. Coast Guard responds to a downed power line that may keep the waterway shut for days.

The Coast Guard was notified at about 6 a.m. local time today that a barge had hit a tower that supports power lines, according to a statement on its website. A safety zone has been set up from mile marker 105 to mile marker 124, and the Coast Guard said power to the line, which is owned by CenterPoint Energy Inc., has been secured and doesn’t pose a public danger.

The affected portion of the channel is expected to be closed until at least the evening of Oct. 5, said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Lionel Bryant. As of this afternoon, eight inbound ships and five outbound ships were on hold because of the closure, said Richard Brahm, a petty officer with the Coast Guard.

A tanker carrying crude for Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Baytown, Texas, facility was allowed through, said Neely Nelson, a company spokeswoman. Nelson said there’s no impact to production at the Baytown refinery from the ship channel incident at this point. Brahm said the tanker delivering to Exxon was going to the edge of the safety zone, which is why that shipment was allowed.

The ship Safety Quest was pushing three barges carrying scrap metal when it hit a highline electrical tower in the Baytown area, the Coast Guard said in its statement. The tower was then being held up by a barge.

The Coast Guard said the Safety Quest’s crew was evacuated to another vessel. The cause of the event is under investigation, the Coast Guard said, and drug and alcohol tests will be given.