Search for missing Texas oil-barge crew members suspended

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[October 23, 2017]  HOUSTON (Reuters) - A sea and air search was suspended on Sunday for two crew members who went missing after an oil barge caught fire early on Friday and leaked an undetermined amount of the fuel into the Gulf of Mexico off Port Aransas, Texas, authorities said.

There was no immediate determination of what caused the fire, which was extinguished on Friday. The search for the missing crew members was halted after it turned up no signs of the two, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Edward Wargo.

Authorities are bringing in additional floating booms to contain oil around the barge, which is anchored about 3 miles off Port Aransas, a Coast Guard spokesman said. Earlier they put about 2,000 feet (609.6 meters) of containment boom around the vessel.

Efforts were under way on Sunday to seal two oil tanks that were breached during the early morning fire. Aerial photos released by the Coast Guard show an opening on the deck on the ship's bow.

After the tanks are sealed, authorities are considering transferring some of the oil to another vessel and towing the barge to port.

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"We are exploring several different ways" to move the barge, said Brittany Eck, a spokeswoman for the Texas General Land Office, which is taking part in the response to the fire and oil spill.

The barge, operated by Bouchard Transportation Co, holds about 137,000 barrels of oil and was headed to Corpus Christi, Texas, when the fire started. A Bouchard spokesman declined to comment on efforts to repair the tanks.

The two tanks that were exposed during the fire, which cut through the ship's deck, hold about 20,000 barrels combined, Eck said.

(Corrects second paragraph to show there was no immediate determination of the fire's cause)

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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