The M/V NEW AMITY response: Balancing safety, environment, and commerce during an emergency oil spill response
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On 22 September 2001, a collision occurred between the M/V NEW AMITY and barge, NMS No. 1486 in the Houston Ship Channel. The collision resulted in damage to a single skinned fuel tank of the NEW AMITY and created an oil spill in Upper Galveston Bay near Morgans Point, Texas. The double-hulled cargo oil tanks on the NEW AMITY were not damaged. Additionally, none of the tanks on the NMS No. 1486 were damaged. Immediately after the incident, the damaged tanker was directed by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) and Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) to proeceed to the nearest lay berth. The Port of Houston Barbours Cut container terminal was less that a mile away and the tanker arrived while still leaking oil. A reported 36,000 gallons of IFO-380 was released before the source could be controlled; much of the oil being trapped under the pier structures within Barbours Cut. The oil spill impacted some 20 miles of shoreline habitat including salt marshes, sand and shell beaches, and riprap. The decision to move the vessel into Barbours Cut set the stage for a challenging, but ultimately successful spill response and cleanup. It was uniquely characterized by the difficult task of balancing safety, environmental, and commercial concerns during spill response. Response actions were conducted with the goal of minimizing impacts to commerce without compromising the environmental response and worker safety. The Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Team (or SCAT) process was used to insure that environmental issues were addressed with participation of trustee agencies and to develop cleanup endpoints. Considering the volume of oil released into a sensitive estuarine system, the long-term impacts to the environment were relatively minor. To expedite cleanup, the entire 1.1 mile overhanging dock facility was cleared and four tugs were used to provide a unique method to flush oil out from under the dock into collection areas and open water mechanical skimming systems. Additionally, surface washing agents were used to enhance vessel and hard structure cleanup. Despite the extended response and difficult conditions, no major injuries were reported during the response. A complicating factor throughout was that the spill occurred just eleven days after the September 11th terrorist attack, as U.S. Coast Guard resources and local media were focused on maritime homeland security.