By Collin Eaton
HOUSTON (Reuters) - The Houston Ship Channel reopened on Wednesday to two-way traffic after salvage crews removed two gasoline barges damaged in a weekend collision with a deep-draft vessel, officials said.
About 11,280 barrels of gasoline spilled into the channel near Bayport, Texas, after a 755-foot (230-metre) tanker collided over the weekend with a Kirby Inland Marine tugboat towing two barges containing the fuel.
The removal of the Kirby Corp-operated barges was completed by midday on Wednesday and two-way traffic resumed, according to Bayport Channel Collision Response, a group overseeing cleanup and salvage operations.
Officials decided on Wednesday to tow away a capsized barge instead of draining its tanks of fuel, speeding up the reopening by at least two days.
A U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman declined to confirm the reopening.
Forty-one ships were waiting at noon (1700 GMT) to enter the 53-mile (85-km) waterway connecting the refining hubs of Houston and Texas City to the Gulf of Mexico, up from 33 on Wednesday morning, the group said.
Twenty-four outbound vessels waited on Wednesday afternoon.
The collision between the liquid petroleum gas tanker Genesis River and two barges under tow by Kirby Inland Marine is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Salvage crews on Tuesday removed the remaining fuel aboard one of the barges struck by the tanker.
(Reporting by Collin Eaton; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)