Houston Ship Channel Partially Reopens After Oil Spill
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Houston Ship Channel is reopening this morning after a big oil spill over the weekend near the entrance to one of the world's busiest commercial sea ports. The Houston Ship Channel is 50 miles long and it's very narrow, one of the trickiest to navigate.
Former Coast Guard officer Bill Diehl knows just how tricky.
CAPTAIN BILL DIEHL: I would put the analogy that it's like parking your car at five miles an hour into your garage with about an inch on either side of your car. That's how tight some of these situations are. It is a skill and that's why the pilots train for this.
GREENE: And this delicate maneuvering is going to slow the process of bringing in cargo now that the port is reopening. Perishables, like bananas, will be the priority. And the process leaves non-perishable cargos, and also captains like Mark Holving, waiting. Captain Hoving is at the helm of the Avonberg, it's a Dutch freighter that's carrying pipes destined for oil fields in the Midwest.
And we have Captain Holving on the line with us. Captain, good morning.
CAPTAIN MARK HOLVING: Good morning.
GREENE: So where were you coming from trying to reach Houston?
HOLVING: We loaded (unintelligible) Veracruz in Mexico.
GREENE: And how long have you now been waiting? And where exactly are you?
HOLVING: Well, we arrived here at the anchorage on Saturday night and now we're about 10 miles south of Galveston waiting for things to happen.
GREENE: So you're just anchored on your boat out there on the water?
HOLVING: Yes. Correct.
GREENE: Can you just paint a picture for me, Captain? I mean are you out there with a bunch of other boats sitting and waiting just like yours?
HOLVING: Yeah. It's - when we look out, there's about 100, 120 ships waiting at anchor at the moment, so it's quite busy. For about 15 square miles, there's two or three ships every square mile. It looks like it's mostly the outside here on the anchorage at the moment.
GREENE: Just lights shining off the water everywhere.
GREENE: How big is the crew?
HOLVING: We have 13 persons on board. Not a big crew.
GREENE: Are supplies becoming a problem? Are you running out of anything?
HOLVING: Yeah. Well, we have a small problem. We were supposed to come in Sunday morning straightaway and get our provisions. So we're running low on some - coffee ran out, that's a big problem.
GREENE: It's a big problem.
GREENE: But you have enough food to at least get by until things reopen again.
HOLVING: Yeah. I have food and water, that's no problem.
GREENE: And why couldn't you disembark and go out to shore in Galveston or Houston? Why do you have to stay out there?
HOLVING: Well, as long as we're not cleared by Homeland Security - still have to pass Immigration, so we're still waiting to get clearance from Customs and Homeland Security to be able to go ashore.
GREENE: Well, let me ask you - is there money at stake here? Is this delivery of pipes time-sensitive? Could it cost your company money, this delay?
HOLVING: Not our company. We're getting paid by the day as long as we have the cargo. But for the receiver of the cargo it will become an issue - if they needed these pipes for drilling and we're stuck out here, and so they can't work, so it's a domino effect; it goes all the way up the chain.
GREENE: Is this kind of delay something that happens often or is this a real rarity?
HOLVING: Well, it's normal to have some delays sometimes in ports when there's congestion or anything, but it's uncommon to have a wait for this kind of reason.
GREENE: Have you and your crew been following the news of the oil spill?
HOLVING: Yeah. We can follow it from this side and of course we listen in on the Coast Guard on the radio and everything.
GREENE: Well, Captain, thank you so much for talking to us this morning. I hope you get moving soon. And I hope the first thing you do when you can get some supplies is to get that coffee.
HOLVING: Yeah, hopefully we go in this afternoon or maybe tomorrow we get this coffee.
GREENE: Captain Mark Holving of the Dutch freighter Avonberg, waiting out in the Gulf of Mexico to enter the port of Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.