Huge Oil Skimming Boat Sits Idle, Waiting for Permission to Go to Gulf

Gotta Protect Those Unions, Ya Know!

By Dell Hill

It’s absolutely unbelievable!

There’s a ship tied up in Norfolk, Virginia. It’s an oil-skimmer, designed specifically to clean up messes such as the one now in its 66th day in the Gulf of Mexico. And there it sits, bobbing like a cork on the Atlantic Ocean waters in VIRGINIA.

Someone call the White House and alert them to the fact that the oil leak is in the Gulf, not the Atlantic, and there’s absolutely NO reason on Earth for that ship to be sitting in Virginia, doing nothing.

Peter Frost, writing for the Daily Press, files this amazing report.

“After making a brief stop in Norfolk for refueling, U.S. Coast Guard inspections and an all-out publicity blitz intended to drum up public support, a giant tanker billed as the world’s largest oil skimming vessel set sail Friday for the Gulf of Mexico where it hopes to assist in the oil-cleanup effort.

The Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-flagged ship dubbed the “A Whale” stands 10 stories high, stretches 1,115 feet in length and has a nearly 200-foot beam. It displaces more water than an aircraft carrier.

Built in South Korea as a supertanker for transporting oil and iron ore, the six-month-old vessel was refitted in the wake of the BP oil spill with 12, 16-foot-long intake vents on the sides of its bow designed to skim oil off surface waters.

The vessel’s billionaire owner, Nobu Su, the CEO of Taiwanese shipping company TMT Group, said the ship would float across the Gulf “like a lawn mower cutting the grass,” ingesting up to 500,000 barrels of oil-contaminated water a day.

But a number of hurdles stand in his way. TMT officials said the company does not yet have government approval to assist in the cleanup or a contract with BP to perform the work.

That’s part of the reason the ship was tied to pier at the Virginia Port Authority‘s Norfolk International Terminals Friday morning. TMT and its public-relations agency invited scores of media, elected officials and maritime industry executives to an hour-long presentation about how the ship could provide an immediate boost to clean-up efforts in the Gulf.

TMT also paid to fly in Edward Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, to get a look at the massive skimmer.

Overton blasted BP and the federal government for a lack of effort and coordination in their dual oil-spill response and made a plea to the government to allow the A Whale to join the cleanup operation.

“We need this ship. We need this help,” Overton said. “That oil is already contaminating our shoreline. We’ve got to get the ship out there and see if it works. There’s only one way to find out: Get the damn thing in the gulf and we’ll see.”

TMT officials acknowledged that not even they’re sure how well the new skimming method will work, noting that it appeared to perform well in limited testing last week.

“This concept has never been tried before,” said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer. “But we think we can do in maybe in a day and a half what these other crews have done in 66 days. We see the A Whale as adding another layer to the recovery effort.”

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton said the McDonnell administration “still has great interest in offshore oil development in Virginia” and supports the A Whale’s effort to assist in the cleanup.

To join the fight, the ship also might require separate waivers from the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The A Whale — pronounced along the lines of “A Team” because there is a “B Whale” coming — is designed to work 20 to 50 miles offshore where smaller skimmers have trouble navigating. The ship would take in oily water and transfer it into specialized storage tanks on the flanks of the vessel. From there, the oil-fouled seawater would be pumped into internal tanks where the oil would separate naturally from the water.

After the separation process, the oil would be transferred to other tankers or shore-based facilities while the remaining water would be pumped back into the gulf.

Because the process wouldn’t remove all traces of oil from the seawater, TMT will likely have to gain a special permit from the EPA, said Scott H. Segal of the Washington lobbying firm, Bracewell &Giuliani, which TMT has retained to help negotiate with federal regulators.

“The simple answer is, we don’t know what the discharge will look like until we can take A Whale out there and test it,” Segal said. TMT will work with regulators to determine an appropriate level of oil that can be contained in the ship’s discharge.

TMT also is firm is working with the Coast Guard to gain approval to operate in the gulf, which may require a waiver from a 90-year-old maritime act that restricts foreign-flagged vessels from operating in U.S. waters, said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer.

Connaughton, the former federal Maritime Administrator, said he doesn’t believe the A Whale would require a waiver from the Jones Act, a federal law signed in 1920 that sought to protect U.S. maritime interests.

Coast Guard inspectors toured the ship for about four hours on Thursday to determine the ship’s efficacy and whether it was fit to be deployed, said Capt. Matthew Sisson, commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s Research and Development arm in New London, Conn.

“We take all offers of alternative technology very seriously,” Sisson said. The ship, he said, is “an impressive engineering feat.”

He would not offer a timetable for Coast Guard approval of the vessel, but said he will try to “turn around a report … as soon as humanely possible.”

Of course, even if the ship gains approval to operate in the gulf, its owners expect the company to be paid for its efforts.

“That’s an open question,” Segal said. “Obviously, (TMT) is a going concern and its people would need to be compensated for their time and effort.”

It makes absolutely NO difference who pays the bill. It makes absolutely NO difference whether or not there are enough life preservers on board. It makes absolutely NO sense to have this ship parked at Norfolk, Virginia while millions of gallons of crude oil is still pumping into the Gulf daily.

He told us it would be “Hope and Change”. Is this the “change”? God, I “Hope” not!


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