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Cruise ships, ferries at standstill as oil spill cleanup continues
TEXAS CITY, Texas - by KHOU 11 News and www.khou.com
Cleanup work continues two days after a barge struck by a ship in the Houston Ship Channel leaked thousands of gallons of heavy, tar-like oil.
Watch KFDM News and stay with kfdm.com for the latest on the investigation.
The cleanup continues Monday after Coast Guard officials said up to 168,000 gallons were dumped from the barge's ruptured tank just inside Galveston Bay. The oil was detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico as of Sunday afternoon.
The Coast Guard's Houston-Galveston commander, Capt. Brian Penoyer, called it "a significant spill."
But he said emptying the barge Sunday removed the remaining pollution risk.
More than 380 people and a fleet of oil-retrieving skimmers and other vessels deploying containment booms around environmentally sensitive areas worked against the damage. Penoyer said more has been summoned.
Even as new passengers arrived Sunday night, Cruises at terminals in Galveston and Pasadena have been told they may not be able to leave for another 72 hours.
Some passengers were offered refunds, while others chose to wait it out in the port.
Inbound ships were kept waiting as well, although the Carnival Triumph was spotted moving into Galveston Bay early Monday morning.
Ferries have been inactive since the spill, too. Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Danny Perez said Monday that ferry service could be out several days at the request of the Coast Guard. Ferry service that usually operates 24 hours per day was suspended after Saturday afternoon's oil spill.
Free ferries haul vehicles and pedestrians from State Highway 87 between Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula. Perez says about 3,000 vehicles and 9,400 passengers use the ferries on a typical Monday.
Galveston's East Beach was closed to the public on Sunday, where tarballs and black sand were spotted.
It smells horrible, resident Suzette Mahaffey said. That crude is very thick in the air.
It was so bad, fishermen were kept from fishing in spots, as others stood in disbelief.
It breaks your heart, said Mahaffeys husband, Keith. One of the things we value here is not just the tourism, but you know is the sand, the beach, the nature--the whole ecological balance.
Even those who had lived on the island their entire lives said they had never seen anything quite like it.
Many, like the Mahaffeys, are now worried about the wildlife.
Though it is still not clear exactly how much oil washed up on beaches along the ship channel, some wildlife experts say it could not have come at a worse time for birds.
It is currently the height of migration season, and the shorebird population has doubled to nearly 120,000.