Skimmers and Booms: Keywords for Victory on the Gulf Coast

If Americans want to visualize victory over the oil spill invasion that threatens our beloved Gulf of Mexico, then we should call for a federalized war of skimmers and booms.

We should not be timid about it. We should visualize a series of booms in concentric rings that contain the spill, with skimmers at work within each ring, sucking up the oil. Industry websites claim that extracted oil can then be mixed with chemicals and reused for fuel.

The effort might also be helped by supertankers “that come in empty, with the huge valves and huge pumps that they have to suck the oil off the surface of the sea so it stops drifting into the wetlands”, says former president of Shell Oil John Hofmeister in a recent interview with the BBC.

As part of this winnable war, dispersants must be stopped.

Our winning hope for this war is nicely exemplified by the Coast Guard Cutter Walnut, which just left Hawaii for her 6,000-mile journey to the Gulf.

“The Walnut is 225-feet long, has a crew of about 50 people, and boasts state-of-the-art communications equipment and oil skimming capabilities,” reports Minna Sugimoto for Hawaii News Now. “Designed after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, the Walnut comes equipped with a boom and pump oil collection system.”

“The skimmer sucks the oil in and pumps it into a bladder,” says Jeffrey Randall, U.S. Coast Guard commanding officer. “That bladder is then filled up, transferred to another vessel that takes it away.”

“Coast Guard officials say the crew goes through annual spill response training, but this will be the first time it’ll actually put oil in the equipment,” Sugimoto reports.

As early as April 29, the Los Angeles Times was reporting the Navy’s mobilization of booms and skimmers and the “opening (of) two of its bases in Mississippi and Florida as staging areas.” WLOX- Biloxi reporter Steve Phillips filed an eyewitness account of the activity from the Gulfport Seabee base.

Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy is commander of the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) which includes the Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV). Within these commands we find initial offerings of equipment, expertise, and training that will be required to defend the Gulf of Mexico against the oil spill invasion.

“A team of NAVSEA professionals are working around the clock to protect the sensitive coast lined with oil booms and perform open-ocean skimming at the source,” says Vice Adm. McCoy at a web page posted by the Naval News Service (NNS).

“NAVSEA’s Chief Engineer for Underwater Salvage (Capt. Patrick Keenan) has been an integral member of BP’s Engineering Command Cell that has assembled the best and brightest minds from around the world to try to stop the leak,” said Vice Adm. McCoy.

“With a single phone call from the U.S. Coast Guard, 66,000 feet of open ocean boom and nine self-contained skimming systems, and the professionals to install and operate them, were dispatched (representing the initial shipment). That’s your Navy — a 24-hour Navy, incredibly ready and trained to respond to a wide variety of national taskings,” boasts Vice Adm. McCoy.

While the Coast Guard and Navy probably do not have enough booms and skimmers on hand to supply the war for the salvation of the Gulf Coast, they do appear to have sufficient knowledge to gather and organize the inventories and people needed. Surely there are enough booms and skimmers in the world that can be air-transported quickly and organized effectively.

Meanwhile, activists and biologists are converging on a consensus that toxic dispersants must be stopped.

“The use of dispersants is a crime on top of a crime, sanctioned by a federal agency, Lisa Jackson, and the EPA,” writes Elizabeth Cook at New Orleans IndyMedia. “It is the rape of the Gulf of Mexico, its sea creatures, and the people who depend on this ecosystem for a living.“

“Diluting the evidence, this (dispersant) solution was designed only for public relations, even as it made the situation much worse,” argues Linh Dinh at Dissident Voice. “Imagine Agent Orange in the water. Thousands of people are already sick, with millions more to come.”

With enough booms to contain the spill, and enough skimmers to extract the oil from the water, there would appear to be no need to add the risk of toxic dispersants to the already toxic spill.

When on Sunday’s “State of the Nation” program, CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen to describe the military response to the Gulf oil spill, the answer she got was a textbook case of incoherence.

Within the space of 141 words the Chair of the Joint Chiefs zig-zagged between “a support role” that simply responded to BP requests on the one hand to “doing everything we can … with every capability that we have” on the other. His confusing ambivalence was perhaps best expressed in the sentence: “And as best I’ve been able to understand, the technical lead for this in our country really is the industry.”

While it may be true that the deep-water attempt to stop the oil spill belongs primarily to industry engineers (although, along with Dr. John, we may protest why this has to be the case) there is ample evidence that the military is perfectly qualified to take command of pollution control.

Remember Dunkirk or the Berlin Airlift? There are times in military history when impossible missions have been accomplished through mobilized determination. We should not give up hope that the war to the save the Gulf of Mexico can go down in history as one of those remarkable efforts.

  • Thanks to Elizabeth Cook of New Orleans IndyMedia for help with research and issue development.
  • Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collective.. Read other articles by Greg, or visit Greg's website.

    6 comments on this article so far ...

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    1. Don Hawkins said on June 1st, 2010 at 10:02am #

      when impossible missions have been accomplished through mobilized determination.

      I agree Greg and just maybe a practice run for another little impossible mission that should have been started yesterday.

    2. Don Hawkins said on June 2nd, 2010 at 8:14am #

      New from James Hansen

    3. Don Hawkins said on June 2nd, 2010 at 2:19pm #

      two PowerPoint posters

      Did anybody take a look at this from James Hansen as if you did two words sums it up, “Oh Crap”

    4. Don Hawkins said on June 2nd, 2010 at 2:23pm #

      Sorry about that those darn zero’s and one’s click on that web page and James Hansen’s last post June 1, 2010 you will see “two power point posters” don’t look unless you want to see the truth.

    5. Don Hawkins said on June 2nd, 2010 at 2:59pm #

      Widespread drought in the Middle East means that many individuals are enduring severe hardship with little watery relief. Often forced to relocate or consume muddy, polluted water unfit for human consumption, people in this region have to test the limit of life with minimal water. Also, simultaneous drought in regions such as the Middle East and Australia further influences already soaring grain prices on the world market. In fact wheat prices have risen by 40 percent over the last several months alone. 2008

      That was written in August of 2008 and today has it changed no become worst. Is there still time to slow this down maybe with an enormous effort. So far an enormous effort alright the courage to do nothing let’s take a look at the Gulf oil spill kind of going through the motions all for show in many way’s. How’s the old climate bill coming along in the Senate here in the States a joke on the human race that’s how it’s coming along. Again the oil spill is one thing and that ice melt in the Arctic is now effecting climate and weather on the old third planet from the Sun and in a few years will make the oil spill look like a walk in the park. Going through the motions all for show as we all go down the drain in not such slow motion. Simple as opposed to complex and complex in twenty ten can best be described as bullshit.

    6. SmartestOne said on June 3rd, 2010 at 8:19pm #

      WHY did the Coast Guard wait until 06/01 to start moving the skimmer? This TRAGEDY is 45 freakin’ days old! Don’t say it was because they were using it in Hawaii; by their own admission it has NEVER been used. Our Criminal in Chief no doubt is to blame.

      Dissident Voice? Where? This post reads like a press release for the Powers That Be. Shame on you for not digging into this and asking tough questions.