INVESTIGATORS COMPLETE TANKER EXPLOSION HEARING

INVESTIGATORS COMPLETE TANKER EXPLOSION HEARING

Federal investigators completed a hearing over the weekend into the deadly explosions aboard a gasoline tanker as salvagers worked to refloat the crippled vessel near the Houston Ship Channel and repair some of the damage.

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board held a joint hearing into the Oct. 9 accident, which killed three workers and injured 26 others, and will issue separate reports.Divers Friday tried to determine how deeply the OMI Charger's stern was stuck in mud. Workers also patched a hole in the engine room so water could be pumped out of the room.

"We're in the long haul now," said Lt. Jeff Hudkins in the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Galveston. "There is considerable damage to the port side where large portions of the side shell were bent out and down by the explosion. They will have to be removed. It will be up to the salvage master to determine the safest way to do that."

The vessel was empty except for its own fuel, which has been removed. There was no pollution.

The vessel's owner, OMI Corp. in New York, hired Smit International (Americas) Inc. of Houston to assist in the salvage operations.

The tanker was partially sunk 400 yards outside the channel, which connects Galveston to the Port of Houston and is an important route for the import and export of oil, refined products and chemicals from the Gulf Coast.

The wreckage would be removed more quickly if it blocked the channel and disrupted commercial vessel traffic, Lt. Hudkins said. The route reopened the day after the accident but vessels are ordered to go through it one at a time.