An incident this week in Galveston, Texas is causing concern among residents and authorities alike. A barge collided with a bridge pillar in Galveston, resulting in an oil spill in the surrounding waters and the closure of the only road to nearby Pelican Island. No injuries were reported in the aftermath of the barge collision, but the incident has officials and residents on high alert.

Incidents like this one serve as a reminder of the delicate balance between maritime commerce and environmental stewardship, highlighting the importance of stringent safety measures to mitigate the risk of accidents in vital waterways. As cleanup efforts continue, authorities remain vigilant in safeguarding the region’s ecological integrity and maritime infrastructure.

Read on to learn more about the bridge collision in Galveston. Our maritime injury attorneys will also provide insight into why bridge collisions occur, and the impact on those involved and nearby communities.

Barge Collides with Pelican Island Bridge in Galveston

The collision, which occurred on May 15, 2024, prompted a rapid response from emergency crews as oil began to spill into the waters near busy shipping channels. The impact of the collision caused portions of the bridge to collapse onto the barge, necessitating the closure of a section of the waterway for cleanup operations. Despite the severity of the incident, the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that only one individual was knocked off the vessel into the water but was swiftly rescued and remained unharmed.

The barge involved in the collision was carrying bunker fuel for ships and is owned by Martin Petroleum, with a capacity of 30,000 gallons. Although the exact quantity of oil spilled into the bay remains uncertain, approximately 6.5 miles of the waterway were closed off as a precautionary measure.

According to David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District, the collision transpired due to adverse currents and high tide, causing the tugboat operator to lose control of the two barges being towed.

Potential Interruptions from Bridge and Waterway Closures

Galveston’s ports serve as vital hubs for international trade, yet experts reassured that the collision was unlikely to cause significant economic disruptions, given its occurrence in a lesser-utilized waterway. Pelican Island, situated on the opposite side of Galveston Island’s bustling tourist beaches, maintains a more industrial and academic presence.

Pelican Island, which houses Texas A&M University at Galveston, along with several industrial facilities, experienced temporary isolation as the bridge closure hindered access to and from the island. However, authorities ensured the safe departure of fewer than 200 individuals present on the island at the time of the collision. Despite the inconvenience, university officials assured students living on campus of their safety, although the campus closure remained in effect until at least Friday.

Fortunately, the affected area lies several miles away from heavily trafficked water routes such as the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Houston Ship Channel, minimizing the potential economic impact. Maritime transportation expert Marcia Burns from the University of Houston noted that while the spill poses environmental concerns, its impact on commercial activities is relatively limited due to Pelican Island’s peripheral location.

Barge Collision Raises Concerns about Safety

While the Pelican Island bridge collapse was relatively minor, it serves as a stark reminder of how quickly incidents like this can happen. On the heels of the Francis Key Bridge collapse in March, incidents like this one raise concern about the safety of our bridges and waterways.

The Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, inaugurated in 1960, received a concerning rating of “Poor” in the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory, published last June. This assessment evaluates various components of a bridge, including the deck, superstructure, substructure, or culvert, if present, with the overall rating determined by any component rated as poor or below. For the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, inspectors identified a “Satisfactory Condition” for the deck, a “Fair Condition” for the substructure, but notably, a “Poor Condition” for the superstructure, responsible for bearing live traffic loads.

Scheduled for replacement by the Texas Department of Transportation in the summer of 2025, the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge faced imminent structural upgrades due to its deteriorating condition. With an estimated project cost of $194 million, the impending construction aimed to address the bridge’s end-of-life status, as highlighted in documents presented during a virtual public meeting the previous year. Despite over $12 million spent on maintenance and repairs over the past decade, the bridge’s condition underscored the urgency of the forthcoming replacement project.

What are Some Common Reasons why Barge Collisions Occur?

Barge collisions with bridges can occur due to various factors, often stemming from navigational challenges, environmental conditions, human error, or mechanical failures. Some common reasons for these collisions include:

Navigational Errors

Barge operators may misjudge distances, currents, or clearance heights when navigating waterways, leading to unintentional collisions with bridge structures. Factors such as poor visibility, strong currents, or unfamiliarity with the area can contribute to navigational errors.

Human Error

Inadequate training, fatigue, distraction, or impairment of barge operators can contribute to errors in judgment or decision-making, increasing the risk of collisions with bridges. Additionally, miscommunication or coordination issues among crew members can also lead to navigational errors.

Mechanical Malfunctions

Mechanical failures or equipment malfunctions on barges or towing vessels, such as engine problems, steering failures, or equipment malfunctioning, can compromise the vessel’s ability to maneuver safely, potentially leading to collisions with bridge structures.

Bridge Design and Navigation Aids

In some cases, insufficient clearance heights, poorly maintained navigation markers, or inadequate lighting on bridges can contribute to collisions with barges, especially during low visibility conditions or at night.

Tidal Effects and Currents

Strong tidal currents or unpredictable water flow patterns near bridge structures can affect the trajectory and stability of barges, making it difficult for operators to navigate safely and increasing the likelihood of collisions.

Adverse Weather Conditions

Inclement weather, such as heavy rain, fog, strong winds, or rough seas, can impair visibility and make navigation more challenging. These conditions increase the risk of collisions with bridges, especially if barge operators struggle to maintain control or accurately assess their surroundings.

Preventing barge collisions with bridges requires a combination of effective navigation practices, proper training for operators, regular maintenance of vessels and equipment, adherence to safety regulations, and ongoing assessment of environmental factors and navigational hazards. Additionally, improvements in bridge design and navigation infrastructure can help mitigate the risk of collisions and enhance overall maritime safety.

What are the Hazards Associated with Barges Colliding with Bridges?

Collisions between barges and bridges pose significant hazards to both human safety and environmental integrity. Some of the key hazards associated with such collisions include:

Structural Damage

Barges colliding with bridge pillars can cause structural damage to the bridge itself, leading to the collapse or partial collapse of sections of the bridge. This can disrupt transportation routes, hinder emergency response efforts, and endanger motorists and pedestrians using the bridge.

Oil Spills

Many barges transport oil, fuel, or other hazardous materials. A collision with a bridge can rupture the hull of the barge, resulting in spills of oil or other pollutants into the surrounding waterways. These spills can have devastating effects on aquatic ecosystems, wildlife, and local economies that rely on fishing and tourism.

Navigational Hazards

Collisions between barges and bridges can create navigational hazards for other vessels in the area. Debris from the collision, such as bridge fragments or spilled cargo, can obstruct waterways and pose risks to passing ships, potentially leading to further collisions or accidents.

Human Injury or Loss of Life

Barge collisions with bridges can cause injuries or fatalities to crew members on board the barge, as well as to individuals on the bridge or in the surrounding area. Depending on the severity of the collision and the presence of hazardous materials, these incidents can result in serious injuries, drownings, or other life-threatening situations.

Environmental Contamination

In addition to oil spills, collisions between barges and bridges can result in the release of other hazardous materials, such as chemicals or industrial waste, into the waterways. This contamination can have long-term effects on water quality, aquatic habitats, and the health of nearby communities that rely on the affected waterways for drinking water or recreational activities.

Collisions between barges and bridges pose multifaceted risks that necessitate proactive measures to prevent accidents, mitigate their impacts, and ensure the safety of both human populations and the environment.

How Can a Maritime Injury Attorney Help Victims of a Barge Collision?

Every maritime incident is unique, and affects those involved in various ways. While the barge collision in Galveston this week did not result in immediate injuries, it is important to understand the impact of these incidents. Part of that awareness is understanding how a maritime injury attorney can help victims who are affected by a barge collision.

A maritime injury attorney can provide crucial assistance to victims of a barge collision in several ways:

  • Legal Guidance: They can offer legal advice and guidance throughout the entire process, explaining your rights and options under maritime law.
  • Investigation: They can conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the barge collision to determine liability and gather evidence to support your case.
  • Negotiation: They can negotiate with insurance companies and other parties on your behalf to ensure you receive fair compensation for your injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.
  • Litigation: If a fair settlement cannot be reached through negotiation, they can represent you in court and advocate for your interests during litigation.
  • Knowledge of Maritime Law: Maritime law is complex and differs from traditional personal injury law. A maritime injury attorney has specialized knowledge and experience in this area of law, which is essential for navigating the legal complexities involved in cases of barge collisions.
  • Support and Advocacy: They can provide emotional support and advocacy throughout the legal process, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve.

A maritime injury attorney plays a critical role in helping victims of barge collisions navigate the legal process and recover the compensation they are entitled to for their injuries and losses.

Learn More from a Maritime Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been harmed in a barge collision, or in the aftermath, you may find it helpful to speak with a maritime injury attorney. At Kherkher Garcia, we assist individuals and families in learning more about their legal rights after maritime incidents, including barge collisions. If you have questions or concerns about an injury or your health and safety, we can help.

To learn more, contact us for a free consultation with a maritime injury attorney. Call 713-333-1030, or complete our online contact form to get started.


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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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