Gulf Ports Remain Open

Gulf Ports Remain Open

U.S. ports along the Gulf of Mexico remained open Friday even as an oil spill gushing from a leaking well moved toward Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf shoreline.

The Port of New Orleans and the Gulf States Maritime Association said they had no immediate plans to close Southwest Pass, the entrance to the Mississippi River, to deep-draft vessel traffic due to the oil sheen and spill.

The Coast Guard said late Thursday an oil sheen was likely already in some sections of Southwest Pass but the plan was to keep vessels underway in both directions to minimize oil collection, according to the GSMA.

The oil sheen was "light, bright and on the surface" as of Thursday and the Coast Guard said that keeping ships moving was the best way to prevent them from becoming fouled. Vessels should transit around the spill area and avoid heavy black floating oil. The worst case scenario was likely to be daylight restrictions and decontamination on arrival, rather than port closings, the Coast Guard said.

The spill from the April 20 explosion at a BP/Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf that killed 11 workers threatens to become one of the worst in U.S. history, with 5,000 barrels a day of oil gushing from the well.

The Associated Branch Pilots, or Bar Pilots, that guide vessels in and out of the entrance to the Mississippi River may use an anchorage on the west side of Southwest Pass to anchor fouled vessels if it becomes necessary.

Vessel traffic at New Orleans has not been affected by the oil spill, said Robert Landry, senior director of marketing for the port. "We are keeping our fingers crossed," he said. "Unless something changes drastically, we don't anticipate any problems." Mobile, Pascagoula and Gulfport also remain open so far.

Contact Janet Nodar at jcnodar@bellsouth.net.