(Coast Guard says it is unknown if there was a spill of naphtha)
By Erwin Seba
HOUSTON, July 20 (Reuters) - A section of a key Gulf Coast waterway was shut after two barges collided early on Monday, setting one of them on fire near the entrance to the Houston Ship Channel, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), which runs between barrier islands and the coast of the U.S. mainland in the Gulf of Mexico, was shut from where it intersects the Houston Ship Channel to Mile Market 350 on the ICW.
The Houston Ship Channel itself, which supplies the nation’s busiest petrochemical port, remained open after the collision shortly after 1 a.m. local time (0600 GMT).
The Coast Guard said the fire was extinguished after more than four hours on one of the barges.
The Coast Guard was attempting to determine if any of the 1 million gallons of highly volatile gasoline additive naphtha being carried by the barge that caught on fire spilled into the waterway or was burned by the blaze, a spokesman said.
Earlier it had said that there had been a spill of naphtha into the waterway.
A dispatcher for the Houston ship pilots association said vessels moving on the Ship Channel near the ICW entrance were moving at a slower speed on Monday morning.
“The ICW on the Bolivar (Peninsula) side is closed, no effect on the Ship Channel,” the dispatcher said. “They have to slow when they go through the area, but other than that there’s no problems.”
The collision occurred when both the barges were being hauled by tug boats and one of the tugs lost power, the Coast Guard said.
It was unclear what environmental impact the spill would have. The Environmental Protection Administration referred all questions to the Coast Guard.
Houston is one of the main U.S. seaports in the United States.
Additional reorting by Kustav Samanta and Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York.; Editing by and Bernadette Baum and W Simon