No timetable has been set to reopen a major U.S. shipping channel after nearly 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil spilled into the Texas waterway, but more help was being called in Monday to contain the spill and protect important shorebird habitat. A barge carrying about 900,000 gallons of the heavy oil collided with a ship Saturday in the busy Houston Ship Channel, spilling as much as a fifth of its cargo into one of the world's busiest waterways for moving petrochemicals, according to the Coast Guard.

Oil had been detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico by Sunday, and as many as 60 vessels were either waiting to get in or out. The Coast Guard -- which called it a "significant spill" -- said it expected to deploy more containment booms Monday, with 24 vessels working to skim the oil.

Environmental groups said the spill occurred at an especially sensitive time. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has important shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area.

The Coast Guard announced today that they hope to have the Ship Channel opened to traffic this afternoon...considering they have almost 100 cargo/tanker ships waiting to get in...let's hope it happens soon.

At this time only Cruise ships and Ferry traffic are allowed in the channel.

We'll keep you posted.

Houston Chronicle