PORT MANSFIELD, RGV – A vessel ran aground in the Port Mansfield ship channel on Friday evening as it tried to evade Hurricane Harvey.

The vessel is named Gulf Justice and it was transporting welder and diver supplies to offshore oil rigs. No one was injured but Port Mansfield officials are concerned that if it stays stuck in the ship channel it could affect trade at the port.

“I believe what happened was the captain of the vessel was running from the storm. His job was to either turn into the storm and crash head on into it going into Brownsville or to run up the coast ahead of it and go into Corpus. Which ended up being ground zero anyway,” said Ron Mills, port director of Port Mansfield.

“Or the captain looks on his chart and what does he see on his chart? An opening on the Barrier Island that’s called Mansfield Cut. Well, if you look in the manual for Coastal Pilot, which is published by the federal government, the Coast Pilot lists Port Mansfield as a marine offshore oil and gas exploration port. Which is what it was in the 80’s and in early 90’s, when the port was providing mud and stuff for offshore platforms.”

Asked if Port Mansfield is still listed as such in Coastal Pilot, Mills said:

“That’s what I was told this morning, yes. As far as the captain was concerned, he was making a run for it. A port that should have been easily be able to handle a 200 foot ship because in the day 90 to 125 foot ships are coming in and out multiple times a day. That isn’t the case anymore.”

Mills said he is assuming that the captain thought the ship channel was deeper than what it is.

“This captain assumed he had found a safe moorage or safe passage for his ship to get out of the way of the storm and when he tried to make the run inside, he struck the channel. If he was running the ranges, there’s no way to run the range at Mansfield Cut without running the ground. So, when he ran the range to get inside, he ran the ground, which would’ve been dead center in the channel.”

Mills said the captain of Gulf Justice called the Coast Guard and it airlifted 12 people off the vessel. He said this happened just as Harvey was kicking up a storm.

“They had already actually moved their helicopters in McAllen so they actually flew out of McAllen to come here. They airlifted the people to Port Mansfield, dropped them at the Port Mansfield Airport and we took care of them for the weekend.”

Well we ensured that they found lodging and that they found sources of food for the time that they were there, yes.

Mills said the north side of the jetties is about 12 to 15 feet deep, with the harbor about a foot and a half to two feet deep.

“If the ship could have hugged the bank on the north side, he may have made it. But that’s all getting awful close to the rocks and we have guys in 40-foot boats who get nervous running along that side. He would not have known. He ran the range, he ran the range and ran the ground. Of course, that’s where he’s supposed to navigate.”

Salvaging the Vessel

Asked what might happen to the vessel now, Mills said:

“It is going to be salvaged and taken some place for repair or, it is going to be salvaged as in its scrap, who knows. I suspect it can be repaired. The problem is now you have Corpus Christi, Houston, Galveston, they’re decimated by either flood waters or by wind or rain, and those resources that come to his aid are far, far, away and many, many, days off.

“What you would hope would be a couple of days turnaround may end up being a week, two weeks, three weeks, before they get help, and he’s sitting there on the bottom, pounding on the bottom that whole time. So, if somebody came out today and threw a rope on him and sucked the dirt from out under him, is it be salvageable? I don’t know.”

Mills said he has looked inside the vessel. “It is pounding on the bottom of the ocean at the entrance to the cut and within about 30 feet (inaudible 4:46) of the rocks. What’s it going to be like in two weeks?”

Padre Island National Seashore

Mills said Port Mansfield “desperately needs” to have its ship channel dredged. He said that is theoretically the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The only person who has ever dredged Mansfield Cut is the Army Corp of Engineers. It has never been dredged by any other organization. We hope that we can get them back out here. It has a lot of benefits. It will not only benefit this captain and his ship or this owner and his ship and get them sea worthy and back to sea and out of our channel,” Mills said.

“But it will also help out with a problem that’s incurring with the national seashore. It has lost the last ten miles of the national park. It is being undermined completely. The jetty on the north side, which is the south end of the national seashore, is on the very verge, on the cusp, of being totally underpinned, which means the national park will not have a southern boundary and they already have several wash throughs on the last 10 miles. The national park will be decimated at the rate they’re going. So, all of this soaking issue has a lot of ramifications that needs to be addressed.”

Mills said he has spoken with members of staff at the national park in the past couple of months. He said these staff members project that the last ten miles of the national park are in very serious condition and have had several wash throughs already. A wash through is where the waters in the bay wash through the dunes and into the Gulf of Mexico.

“They need to rebuild and the only way to do that, well the logical way to do that, will be to take the silt and sand that’s building up in Mansfield Cut and around the entrance of Mansfield Cut and transport it or pump it through a dredging system along the coast line to rebuild it,” Mills said.

“There are a lot of advantages of dredging the channel. Speculation based on engineering studies that have been done in the last year indicate that it will also slow down the sand accumulations in the Brownsville ship channel, which is going to be a major port here in the next few years, dredging the channels at 52 feet, bringing in Panama size ships.”

Benefits for All

Mills said dredging the ship channels will help the national seashore, the Port Brownsville, and marine life in general.

“The belief is that the water quality has increased immeasurable by the fact that the cut is there because before there was a cut, the salinization level of the Laguna, which is the second saltiest body of water in the world, was much higher than it is now. But now that its been blown out, the salinization has gone and dropped and thus there’s more marine life, there’s more vegetation, there’s a lot of advantages in having that channel flow. That man-made cut has actually created natural positive environment,” Mills said.

Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy of Mike Norell.