The recent spill of 168,000 gallons of heavy oil into the Houston Ship Channel creates immediate and obvious environmental concerns. In addition, it has disrupted shipping for several days, with the channel only now being partially reopened.
Perhaps overlooked at this point is the fact that the cause of these problems was a maritime collision. On Saturday, a barge and ocean-going vessel crashed in an area of the ship channel and Intracoastal Waterway.
Even with modern equipment, maritime industries involve dangers to equipment and crewmembers. Ships, along with their hardware and seamen, operate in every type of weather and sea condition. Sometimes navigational hazards lead to disasters, on other occasions the elements are perilous, and still other cases involve a deadly combination of the two.
It is therefore critical that ships are outfitted with proper equipment that is maintained in sound working order. In addition, vessels must be under the control of a crew that is properly trained and led. Finally, maritime traffic must be sensibly conducted: shipping companies should establish realistic and safe schedules.
Maritime trade is vital to the world economy. Yet, as one of the most dangerous occupations, it imposes substantial risks upon seafarers, longshoremen, and others in navigation. Accordingly, shippers must maintain the highest commitment to safety in order to protect the welfare of those in the industry, as well as those affected by it. Had proper procedures been set and followed, we would not be reading about and paying for an oil spill in our waters.