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Strong currents hamper Corpus Christi drillship salvage operations

Port has opened internal waterway to small vessels but remains closed to commercial traffic

PERSONNEL at the Port of Corpus Christi and salvage teams battled strong currents on Wednesday that hampered efforts to remove a grounded drillship from the port’s channel, according to port agents keeping a close watch on the situation.

Weather conditions have improved marginally in the Corpus Christi sector, allowing port personnel to resume damage assessment, but not enough to expedite recovery efforts. That makes it difficult to predict when the key oil port could reopen.

Teams are reportedly working towards opening the port by September 4, with a potential for limited movement such as daylight transits over the weekend.

Salvage divers attempting to survey the 14,274 gt Paragon drillship DPDS1 on Wednesday had to abort their work due to heavy currents that could endanger further operations, but will return to the site on Thursday, port agents said.

An accurate assessment of the drillship’s condition is needed before a plan to remove the beached vessel can be implemented. The US Coast Guard mandates that all parts of the port be surveyed for safety and damage assessment before operations can resume.

Paragon DPDS1 broke from its moorings after Hurricane Harvey made landfall last Friday and ran aground on the Corpus Christi entrance channel, blocking commercial traffic, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence casualty reports.

The reports said that two tugs were deployed to control the drillship, but one sank and another was damaged without human casualties.

The drillship is not currently blocking the full channel but surveyors were not confident about allowing commercial vessels through the channel safely, partly because damaged portions of the drillship could have separated from the vessel and entered the channel, port agents said.

Meanwhile, the port has permitted small vessels into the inner harbour, although inbound and outbound commercial traffic remains halted as damage assessment is still ongoing.

The USCG changed the status of the port from “Condition Zulu” to “Modified Zulu” that will allow the movement of critical support vessels such as tugs and barges, which are needed for repairing storm damage.

So far, only the inner harbour of Corpus Christi is open to small vessels with a shallow draught of just 20 ft and all other parts remain closed to any merchant, recreational, fishing and passenger vessels. Port agents said there have been reports of damage to ATON or AIS aids to navigation systems.

Recovery efforts picked up after the core of Tropical Storm Harvey moved northeast on Wednesday, although floodwaters are still affecting the region and the lack of personnel is hampering recovery efforts, as many resources have been diverted towards severely strained emergency services for the public.

The threat of heavy rains has ended in the Houston-Galveston area but catastrophic and life-threatening flooding will continue in and around Houston, Beaumont-Port Arthur, and eastward into southwest Louisiana for the rest of the week, the National Hurricane Centre said. 

It said expected heavy rains spreading northeastward from Louisiana into western Kentucky may also lead to flash flooding and increased river and small stream flooding.

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