A lightering area represents a geographically designated area in which oil or other such hazardous product may be transferred from one cargo ship to another with a weight less than 150 gross tons. Lightering usually occurs under inadvertent circumstances in which a vessel is no longer able to retain its cargo from mitigating factors that could lead to marine ecological damage. The lightering process may also occur when oil goods are being sent to coastal onshore terminals for processing and refinement. Areas in which lightering is admissible are designated by the U.S. Coast Guard.


The entire process of moving oil or hazardous waste to and from the ships is considered a part of the lightering process. This does not include transfer of oil or lubricants for the use of items by the receiving vessel. Lightering will begin in “Lightering Rendezvous Areas” with the mooring of the vessels to begin the offload process. While not all lightering takes places in LRA’s, it is prohibited to lighter in “Prohibited Areas” as designated by the Coast Guard.


The Galveston Offshore Lightering Area is a designated lightering zone in which the Port of Texas City or the Port of Freeport are to provide harbor to damaged vessels containing oil or hazardous waste. In the event a vessel is not able to reach either port, the Houston-Galveston region is well equipped to provide assistance to distressed ships as a number of vessels are always within short distance to provide lightering service within reasonable time.


For historical context detailing ability to provide harbor of safe refuge for the ports of Galveston County, the largest vessels brought into Texas City anchorage were the Ulan (1,089’ length) and the Zafrio Producer (1,088’ length). These vessels were not brought into the port, but only into the anchorage. To bring a vessel into Galveston, specifically Pier 36 and 37, the maximum length is 700’ with beam limitations. In addition, there are considerations for currents in excess of 1 knot.

In the event of lightering requests, the local Industry Taskforce On Lightering (ITOL) is able to provide information for available lightering options through the U.S. Coast Guard Port Coordination Team. Please follow the Houston-Galveston Harbor of Safe Refuge Guide for more detailed information.