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Pilots Halt Traffic in Sabine Ship Channel Because of Fog

Pilots may start boarding vessels to guide them through the Sabine Pass Ship Channel in southeast Texas as early as tomorrow when heavy fog has lifted, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Tomorrow morning is our projection for traffic,” said Eddie Diaz, a U.S. Coast Guard watch supervisor in Port Arthur, Texas. He said traffic will probably be suspended overnight.

About 17 inbound and outbound vessels have been waiting to move through the waterway since pilots stopped boarding due to fog yesterday, Derek Rutherford, a dispatcher for the Sabine Pilots Association, said in a telephone interview.

Ships move from the Gulf of Mexico through the channel to supply oil to refineries owned by Valero Energy Corp., Total SA and Motiva Enterprises LLC in Port Arthur and by Exxon Mobil Corp. in Beaumont.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which jointly owns Motiva with Saudi Arabian Oil Co., has “plans in place to address supply issues” at the 300,000-barrel-a-day Port Arthur refinery, Kayla Macke, a Shell spokeswoman in Houston, said in an e-mail.

“The Motiva Port Arthur Refinery has access to multiple sources of crude oil,” Macke said in an e-mail. “We continue to monitor the status of the waterway and its potential impact on our operations.”

Valero, Exxon

Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero in San Antonio, said there was no impact on his company’s operations. Rachael Moore, an Exxon spokeswoman in Fairfax, Virginia, said the 345,000-barrel-a-day Beaumont refinery is also operating normally.

Pat Avery, a Total spokeswoman at the 240,000-barrel-a-day Port Arthur refinery, said she didn’t immediately know whether shipping conditions have affected operations at the plant.

Houston pilots had about 47 vessels waiting to enter the passage to the largest U.S. petroleum port after suspending operations yesterday because of fog, Tim Hicks, a U.S. Coast Guard watch supervisor in Houston, said in a telephone interview.

About 23 ships have left Houston via the Houston Ship Channel since noon local time, when fog lifted in the city, Hicks said.

Galveston and Texas City pilots suspended boardings at 3:30 p.m. local time because of fog, Hicks said. Houston pilots resumed boardings at noon local time, mostly for outbound ships, he said.

“I’ve got visibility deteriorating as we speak, so I don’t really anticipate them boarding inbounders by the time they get out there,” Hicks said. “I imagine the fog is going to set back in.”

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