Oil Spill Closes 80 Miles of the Mississippi River

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, July 24, 2008 (ENS) – Crews are struggling to contain and clean more than 419,000 gallons of fuel oil from an 80 mile closed stretch of the Mississippi River that extends from New Orleans downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil spilled early Wednesday near downtown New Orleans when the 600-foot Liberian-flagged oil tanker Tintomara collided with an American Commercial Lines barge that was being pushed by a tug, the Mel Oliver.

The collision split the 61-foot barge in half and the oil spilled from the barge into the river at mile marker 98, near Harahan, just north of the Huey P. Long Bridge. The tanker was not damaged.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Lower Mississippi to all vessel traffic following the spill. The barge is partially submerged and is being kept in place by tugboats. No injuries have been reported.

A U.S. Coast Guard crewman observes
the sunken barge surrounded by
tugs in the Mississippi River. (Photo
courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard has confirmed that none of the tug’s crew had the licenses that are required to operate on the river.

Representatives from the tug Mel Oliver report that “there were no properly licensed individuals on the vessel during the time that the incident occurred,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The tug operator’s name and the name of the river pilot aboard the tanker have not been released.

Laurin Maritime of Houston owns the Tintomara, which was carrying styrene and biodiesel fuel in separate compartments.

The Coast Guard is working with Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordination Office, oil spill response organizations, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to address the spill.

Nearly nine miles of containment boom has been deployed by the Oil Spill Response Organization, which is awaiting the deployment of an additional 29,000 feet of boom.

Booms also were deployed to protect sensitive wildlife habitats and to protect drinking water intake pipes.

Contracted oil spill response organizations are using vaccum trucks and oil skimmers to pick up the spilled oil.

The #6 fuel oil that was spilled is a commercial fuel oil that is lighter than regular fuel oil and dissipates more quickly, the Coast Guard says.

“The Coast Guard continues to work very closely with state and local agencies, the maritime industry, oil spill response organizations and salvage companies in an effort to mitigate the pollution impact and to reopen the Lower Mississippi River to commercial traffic as soon as practical,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Mckean, chief of the Sector New Orleans Command Center.

No damage to the marshlands has been reported at this time, he said.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker and a six-person team of safety investigators arrived in New Orleans late Wednesday to investigate the incident.

Emergency responders from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have notified all parishes affected by the oil spill so that they could take action to protect their water intakes. Parishes shut down their intakes and booms have been deployed around the intakes.

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospital officials are urging residents in the Algiers, St. Bernard, Dalcour and Belle Chase water systems to conserve water, as the intakes have been shut down.

These systems have water reserves, but if the reserves run out, and sampling of the finished water shows elevated contaminants, contracts with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to deliver water to the affected areas could be activated at the request of the individual parishes.

Air monitoring, in high traffic areas, such at Riverwalk and the French Quarter, is ongoing. The DEQ has emergency responders with a portable air monitor moving around New Orleans where the river is impacted. The air monitor shows low readings of hydrocarbons below any action levels.

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