Even as the U.S. Gulf Coast braces to deal with an unprecedented oil spill, ports remained open Monday and commercial vessel traffic proceeded in the region with no noticeable slowdown.
“We’ve seen no effect whatsoever,” said Port of New Orleans spokesperson Matt Gresham.
The oil sheen is thin and is not attaching to vessels, he said, and decontamination is on a voluntary basis only. Gulfport, Pascagoula and Mobile also report no effects on ship movement as of Monday.
Coast Guard Sector New Orleans has said a “primary objective” is to keep the Lower Mississippi River open and minimize potential delays to navigation. Currently there are no plans to close or restrict traffic through Southwest Pass, the entrance to the Mississippi River, because of the oil, according to the Gulf States Maritime Association. Both the Bar Pilots, who guide vessels in and out of the Mississippi, and Sector New Orleans said that there is no oiling in their reaches of the river.
While Coast Guard decontamination stations are operating at Venice, La., at an area called The Jump, and also at the Boothville Anchorage, as of 2:00 p.m. CST decontamination was not mandatory and no vessels had voluntarily requested cleaning, according to the GSMA.
The Port of Mobile has imposed some restrictions to navigation, however. To avoid contact with the spill area, all deep draft vessels entering or leaving the port should use any easterly approach or an established safety fairway southeast of the Mobile Sea Buoy.
Mobile is also requiring all vessels agents and/or masters entering the port to submit a written report stating that the vessel has not transited an oiled area and/or has conducted a visual examination of the external hull above the waterline for oil. Reports must be submitted to the attention of Captain Terry Gilbreath, Harbormaster, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOAA reports that the oil sheen now appears to be moving east, according to the GSMA. The upper part of the Mississippi River Delta will see oil sheen shortly, heavy oiling is apparent just south of Mobile Bay, and oil accumulation is likely in Southwest Pass near the jetties by mid-week.
NOAA has restricted fishing for at least 10 days in the federal waters affected by the BP oil spill, a region stretching from Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi to the waters off Pensacola Bay, Fla.
Meanwhile, BP is building huge modules at Port Fourchon, La., that will be dropped onto the leaks in an attempt to control the oil gushing from the broken well, according to the Houston Chronicle. The hope is that these will be in place within six to eight days.
Attempts to drill a relief well are underway but expected to take at least 90 days. No one knows exactly how much oil is leaking from the well, some 41 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi; estimates range from 5,000 barrels a day to many times that.
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