TODAY   |  March 24, 2014

‘Catastrophic’ oil spill in Texas shipping channel

New help is being brought in to contain a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Texas coast. It’s creating havoc at one of the nation’s most vital shipping lanes. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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>>> and now to texas this morning where a big oil spill is creating havoc in one of the nation's most vital shipping lanes and now threatening wildlife, as well. and janet shamlian is in galveston, texas, with the latest. janet, good morning.

>> reporter: tamron, good morning to you. yeah, this is a real problem out here. cruise ship stuck in port. the oil has swamped a wildlife refuge and one of the busiest shipping channels in the world is now closed for a third day.

>> reporter: from the air, it's easy to see the sheen of thick, heavy oil on the water. and this morning, it's a mess.

>> i want to emphasize this is a significant spill.

>> reporter: two dozen ships and an army of cleanup crews worked all night. in a race to contain the 168,000 gallons of oil spilled when a ship collided with a barge over the weekend. a big concern right now, the threat to the surrounding area, which is a popular habitat.

>> the extent that the environment is moving the oil is something that our reconnaissance teams are paying keen attention to.

>> reporter: oil-soaked birds are beginning to show up. about ten recovered and taken to a rehabilitation facility. the ship channel remains closed this morning blocking traffic to and from the port of houston, one of the busiest in the world. dozens of ships are trapped. among them, three cruise ships , the caribbean princess , still stuck. the carnival magic and royal caribbean 's "navigator of the sea" had to delay their return to galveston until last night when the coast guard finally escorted them past the spill so passengers could disembark.

>> just like oil at the gas station when you see the different colors, that's what it looks like.

>> authorities are using what they say is six miles of containment to try to protect the area. also calling the spill catastrophic.

>> all right, janet. thank you