NEW ORLEANS – Cleanup crews across the Gulf of Mexico surveyed damage done by last week’s hurricane while contending Sunday with choppy seas that idled many of the boats dedicated to keeping oil from hitting vulnerable beaches and marshes.
Offshore skimming vessels were able to operate in Louisiana waters, but not off the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, officials said.
The offshore skimming in those states has essentially been curtailed for nearly a week, thanks to weather generated earlier by Hurricane Alex, even though it never came within 500 miles of the spill.
On Sunday, huge barges used to collect oil from skimming vessels were parked at the mouth of Mobile Bay, waiting for conditions to subside as waves rose to about 5 feet high miles offshore.
The current spate of bad weather is likely to last well into next week, according to the National Weather Service.
On the shore, beach cleanup crews were making progress on new oil that washed up thanks to the high tides generated by last week’s bad weather.
In Grand Isle, about 800 people were removing tar balls and liquid oil from seven miles of beach, Coast Guard Cmdr. Randal Ogrydziak said.
“In a day or two, you wouldn’t be able to tell the oil was even there,” he said.
Along the Louisiana coast, skimmers that were able to operate included the giant converted oil tanker known as A Whale.
Taiwanese shipping firm TMT, which owns the vessel, calls it the world’s largest oil skimmer. Sunday was the second day of testing the ship’s abilities for U.S. Coast Guard and BP officials who will make a decision about whether to put it – and its purported capacity to suck up 21 million gallons of oil-tainted water per day – to work in the Gulf.