Property Owners Sue Over Tanker Leak

HOUSTON (CN) – A tanker leaked a noxious chemical after colliding with a ship in the Houston Ship Channel and the backwash sent an 8-foot polluted wave rolling onto shore, angry property owners claim in court.
     The plaintiffs who filed their lawsuit in the Harris County Court on May 4, own four lots in Morgan’s Point, a town of 350 people on the shores of Galveston Bay, near the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel.
     Morgan’s Point is 30 miles east of Houston and home to the Gulf Coast’s largest shipping container terminal.
     The quiet town was shaken on March 9 by Coast Guard helicopter flyovers after the Carla Maersk, a Danish-flagged chemical tanker, collided with the Conti Peridot, a Liberian bulk carrier, in thick fog, lead plaintiff Gordon Westergren says in the lawsuit.
     The Carla Maersk was carrying 216,000 barrels of Methyl tertiary-butyl ether and the collision punctured two storage tanks on the vessel, which spilled an unknown amount of the chemical into the water, Westergren says.
     “This significant collision has resulted in substantial damage to the environment in the Morgan’s Point area and caused the Houston Ship Channel to remain closed for three days,” the complaint states.
     The ships were being guided by pilots from the Houston Pilots Association, a group of sailors licensed to bring large ships in and out of the Houston Ship Channel.
     Westergren says the pilots “knew or should have known about the dangers associated with traveling in the dense fog” and should have prevented the collision, which “caused an approximately eight-foot wave carrying MTBE to wash onto plaintiffs’ property.”
     MTBE is a stinky, flammable liquid added to gasoline to prevent engine knocking. “Because MTBE dissolves easily in water and does not cling to soil very well, it migrates faster and farther in the ground than other gasoline components, thus making it more likely to contaminate soil and private wells,” the complaint states.
     Consuming large amounts of MTBE can damage kidneys and may cause cancer in high doses, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
     Westergren and his co-plaintiffs want the responsible parties to foot the cleanup bill for their properties and to cover any medical bills stemming from the MTBE exposure. “Remediation is necessary not only to protect the value of the property, but human health, too,” Westergren says.
     The plaintiffs also seek punitive damages for gross negligence, nuisance, trespass and negligence.
     They are represented by Mark Sparks with The Mostyn Law Firm in Beaumont.
     Defendants include The Maersk Group, owner of the Carla Maersk tanker, the CONTI-Group, owner of the Conti Peridot ship and the Houston Pilots Association.
     Representatives of each of those defendants did not respond to a request for comment.

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