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Oil-skimming cleanup ships sent to safety as hurricane roils Gulf of Mexico

June 30, 2010 |  5:51 am

BP and the Coast Guard sent oil-skimming ships in the Gulf of Mexico back to shore because nasty weather from Hurricane Alex churned up rough seas and powerful winds.

Officials scrambled to reposition booms to protect the coast, and had to remove barges that had been blocking oil from reaching sensitive wetlands.

Alex is projected to stay far from the spill zone and is not expected to affect recovery efforts at the site of the blown-out well 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Vessels being used to capture or burn oil and gas leaking from it and those drilling relief wells that officials say are the best hope for stopping the leak for good are still working in the Gulf.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Dave French said all skimming efforts had been halted for now off the Louisiana coast. Wayne Hebert, who helps manage skimming operations for BP PLC, said all nearshore skimmers were idled off the coasts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

“Everyone is in because of weather, whether it's thunderstorms or [high] seas,” Hebert said.

Alex had maximum sustained winds at 75 mph late Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center said the Category 1 storm is the first June Atlantic hurricane since 1995. It is on track for the Texas-Mexico border region and expected to make landfall Wednesday night.

- Associated Press