Houston Ship Channel Remains Partially Shut: U.S. Coast Guard

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Marine traffic in the Houston Ship Channel will remain partially halted until salvage ships retrieve an anchor that broke off a bulk carrier that collided with a tanker on Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Tuesday.

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The bulk ship hauling steel and the tanker that was carrying 216,000 barrels of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, remained in place on Tuesday as the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers worked with salvage companies to move them and retrieve the lost anchor, the Coast Guard said.

Thirty-six ships, carrying all kinds of cargo, were waiting to get in while 28 waited to get out on Tuesday morning, said J.J. Plunkett, port agent for the Houston Pilots.

On Tuesday, two tankers carrying Mexican crude were still waiting after being held up last week when fog forced a four-day shutdown of the ship channel, according to ClipperData, which tracks crude movements.

Three other tankers carrying Saudi crude also were held up by last week's fog. By Tuesday one had been fully lightered and was leaving; a second was waiting after having been lightered twice; and a third was offloading its remaining 1 million barrels at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port in New Orleans after 500,000 barrels were lightered on Monday, ClipperData said.

Also outside the channel were two full Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), one with Saudi crude, the other with Kuwaiti oil. There was also a Saudi vessel awaiting lightering of 500,000 barrels of Kuwaiti crude. The Saudi vessel discharged 1.5 million barrels at the LOOP on Friday, ClipperData said.

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Crude traders said the disruption could lead to a drawdown of U.S. Gulf Coast crude stocks and slow record builds. But such blips typically right themselves when the channel reopens and backlogs in traffic clear up.

An unknown amount of MTBE was spilled in the top U.S. petrochemical port when the double-hulled tanker Carla Maersk collided with the bulk vessel.

Traffic in and out of Galveston, Texas City and Bayport on the south end of the ship channel moved as usual on Tuesday. The area where the collision occurred remained closed near Morgan's Point, just south of Baytown.

(Reporting By Kristen Hays in Houston and Catherine Ngai in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)