July 23, 2008
Lower Mississippi closed after massive spill
The Lower Mississippi River is closed from mile marker 99 to mile marker 70, above Head of Passes.
The Coast Guard closed the river after the 46,764 dwt Liberian-flag chemical tank ship, Tintomara, collided with an American Commercial Lines barge that was being pushed by the DRD Towing Company, L.L.C, tug boat, Mel Oliver, at approximately 1:30 a.m.
Tintomara is registered to Whitefin Shipping Co., Gibraltar, and managed by Laurin Maritime.
The collision split the barge in half. It was carrying No, 6 fuel oil (the heaviest grade of residual fuel) and lost all of its contents, estimated at 419,286 gallons--many times more than the approximately 50,000 gallons spilled in the Cosco Busan incident.
The barge came to rest at mile marker 97 at the Crescent City Connection Bridge.
Coast Guard Sector New Orleans launched personnel from its Response and Prevention Departments, the Gulf Strike Team, a HH-65C helicopter from Air Station New Orleans, a 41-foot boat from Station New Orleans and the 87-foot patrol boat Razorbill to the scene.
The Coast Guard is working with Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordination Office, oil spill response organizations, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to address the spill.
The Chalmette, Jackson/Gretna and Canal/Algiers and Belle Chasse ferry services were suspended.
DEQ emergency responders notified all parishes impacted by the release so that they could take action to protect their water intakes. Parishes shut down their intakes and booms have been deployed around the intakes. Booms were also deployed to protect sensitive wildlife habitats and to contain the oil.
The Freshwater Diversion Project at Braithwaite has been diverted with containment boom. Clean up contractors are on site to undertake skimming operations to recover the oil.
Air monitoring, in high traffic areas, such at Riverwalk and the French Quarter, is ongoing. DEQ has emergency responders with a portable air monitor moving around New Orleans where the river is impacted.
DEQ says the air monitor shows low readings of hydrocarbons below any action levels.
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.
In its most recent update on the incident, the Coast Guard says "representatives from the tug boat, Mel Oliver, report that there were no properly licensed individuals on the vessel during the time that the incident occured."
The Coast Guard says that 45,000 feet of containment boom has been deployed by the Oil Spill Response Organization, and it is awaiting the deployment of an additional 29,000 feet of containment boom.
Contracted oil spill response organizations are using vaccum trucks and oil skimmers. The deployed boom is intended to catch most of the sheen, but boom is still in the process of being placed. The amount of fuel that has been cleaned up at this time is unknown.
The Coast Guard statement says that "The No. 6 fuel oil is a commercial fuel oil that is lighter than regular fuel oil and dissipates at a quicker speed." This is totally at variance with how most people would define No. 6 fuel oil-- one NOAA document describes it as "a persistent oil; only 5% to 10% is expected to dissipate within the first hours of a spill."
The Coast Guard launched a HH-65C helicopter and crew from Air Station New Orleans, a 41-foot response boat crew from Station New Orleans, the Cutter Razorbill, a 87-foot patrol boat, 25-foot and 26-foot small boats, members from the Gulf Strike Team and personnel from the Response and Prevention Departments.
"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. Safety for the public remains paramount to the response mission," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Mckean, Chief of the Sector New Orleans Command Center.
No damage to the marshlands has been reported at this time. No injuries have been reported.
The incident is under investigation.