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Spill costing ports, small businesses money - The Galveston County Daily News : News

August 21, 2014

Spill costing ports, small businesses money

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Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:30 am | Updated: 8:45 am, Tue Mar 25, 2014.

As crews tried to contain the more than 160,000 gallons of fuel oil that leaked from a disabled barge near the Texas City Dike over the weekend, millions of dollars in commerce was either shut down or sitting at sea.

Two ports were closed, and forty-five oil tankers and cargo ships were unable to deliver their goods.

Thousands of cruise ship passengers were delayed. Smaller businesses — such as bait shops and a fishing charter company — were also affected.

No movement

“There’s absolutely no vessel movement at this time,” said Jason Hayley, director of operations for the Port of Texas City, which has been closed since the Kirby Inland Marine barge collided with a ship. “Obviously it’s a big impact. Right now it’s similar to when we get closed due to weather. If the closure is protracted, it is going to be an issue for customers of the port.”

Oil products make up most of the cargo going in and out of the port. Hayley said the port averages 25 to 30 vessels in and out of the port each day. That includes barges, such as the one involved in the accident, as well as tankers.

About 60 million net tons of cargo go in and out of the Port of Texas City each year. That’s roughly 1.15 million tons each week.

The lack of shipping means oil refineries like Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay Refinery and Texas Refining Division refineries are unable to get new shipments of crude oil. At the same time, products leaving the refineries can’t get out.

“That has an impact beyond the plants,” Hayley said. “Most of the crude that comes into Texas City doesn’t stay in Texas City; it goes north. So facilities (in Houston) won’t get what they need.”

Cruise ships make port

Cruise ships also felt the delays.

Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships that had been sitting off the coast of Galveston were allowed to make port Sunday night. Passengers took the delays in stride.

Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, Kaysha and Jonathan Spoon of Oklahoma said there was a long line of ships just waiting to come to port.

“We are being told they are conducting a flyover to see if the ship can make its way into the port (of Galveston) without going through the oil,” Kaysha Spoon said in an email to The Daily News. “There are lots of ships parked all around us. So far no problems on the boat.”

The couple said the cruise line reopened many of the ship’s restaurants and onboard activities to keep the passengers comfortable.

Carnival’s Vance Gulliksen said arrangements were made for the Magic to take out for its next sailing today for what is now a six-day — instead of seven-day — cruise.

“Guests who opt to sail on this voyage will receive a pro-rated refund equal to one day of their cruise fare,” Gulliksen said.

Customer service representatives at Royal Caribbean told The Daily News they expected to set sail late Sunday or today.

Too soon to tell

Mike Mierzwa, executive director of the Port of Galveston, said it was too soon to determine just what the financial affect on the port would be since the safe zone established by the Coast Guard effectively closed the port for a while.

At least the island’s port doesn’t take the financial hit of losing the next cruises.

According to its proposed 2014 budget, the port expected to generate nearly $10 million in revenue from cruise passengers and parking revenues. Another $5.8 million was expected to come from dockage, fees charged to companies for using the public docks.

All combined, the three categories account for 60 percent of the port’s expected revenue. Still, other port traffic may be delayed.

Capt. Brian Penoyer of the U.S. Coast Guard said other ships coming in or leaving the port would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Fishing for answers

Jeff Nielsen is looking at the possibility of losing about $10,000 a week if the waterways don’t reopen. The owner of Galveston Fishing Charter Company said he is unable to get his offshore boat out of the Galveston Yacht Basin.

He was frustrated that he is unable to tell his customers what will happen.

“I’ve got charters starting Wednesday, and it is a wait and see thing right now,” Nielsen said. “I hate to have guests come in and get a hotel room for a couple of days and not be able to go out on the boat.”

Dike bait shop will survive

The business prospects are less daunting for Jason Cogburn, owner of Boyd’s One Stop bait camp at the entrance of the Texas City Dike.

Having the dike closed has the potential to hurt business but because access to his business isn’t cut off, he said he can survive.

“Now if the weather had been real nice today, that would have hurt because I would have lost that business,” he said Sunday. “But really, after Hurricane Ike (when the dike was closed for two years), we learned to diversify. And many of my customers come here for seafood and crawfish and not as much bait.”

Cogburn recently opened a small take-out restaurant that was drawing business from the media members covering the spill.

Still, if the dike doesn’t reopen by the weekend Cogburn worries he’ll lose out on the business anglers bring.

Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or tjaulds@galvnews.com. Contact reporter Wes Swift at 409-683-5319 or wes.swift@galvnews.com.

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