UPDATE 6-Houston ship lane remains shut as cleanup drags on; Exxon cuts output
* Coast Guard says will re-open channel 'as soon as we can'
* More than 80 inbound and outbound vessels waiting to move (Updates Houston Ship Channel remains shut by nightfall)
By Erwin Seba
TEXAS CITY, Texas March 24 (Reuters) - The closure of the vital Houston Ship Channel looked set to extend to a fourth day after the Coast Guard struggled to finish cleaning up after an oil barge spill on Monday, threatening to force deeper production cuts at local refiners.
Earlier on Monday, the Coast Guard had told ship operators that it should be able to reopen the waterway later in the day, resuming at least some supply of crude oil to more than one-tenth of the nation's refining capacity.
"We will begin the process of a tapered ... not a floodgate resumption of marine traffic," Captain Brian Penoyer, commander of U.S. Coast Guard sector Houston-Galveston and captain of the Port of Houston, told reporters on Monday.
"We anticipate re-opening the Houston Ship Channel as soon as we can," he said.
However the Port of Houston was still shut by evening, officials said, with the queue of waiting vessels growing to more than 90.
Penoyer explained that traffic can't move again until there's no more oil in the water to cling to ships and be carried further. Also, any ships that were touched must be cleaned before moving through water deemed sufficiently clean. Continuación...