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Gulf oil spill: Initial tests of massive skimmer are inconclusive

July 5, 2010 | 11:55 am

A test of the massive super-skimming ship sent to the Gulf of Mexico to help with the oil cleanup is "inconclusive" because of choppy seas in deep waters, a spokesman for the ship's owner said Monday.

The modified oil tanker A Whale cruised near the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, over the weekend, when rough seas kept many of the smaller skimming boats in port. But skimming, by either a small vessel or a large one, apparently requires calmer waters.

In a statement Monday, Bob Grantham, a spokesman for the super-skimmer's owner, TMT Shipping Offshore, said results remained "inconclusive in light of the rough sea state we are encountering."

Grantham said the company, working with the U.S. Coast Guard, would continue testing the ship "to make operational and technological adjustments aimed at improved skimming effectiveness given the actual conditions we are encountering in the Gulf."

The ship was converted from a tanker to a skimmer in Lisbon, Portugal, in June, according to the joint oil-spill response information center. At 1,100 feet long and 10 stories high, it is hoped that A Whale will be able to take up as much as 300,000 barrels of oil-water mixture every 10 hours or so, according to Erica Fouche, a spokeswoman at the main spill response headquarters in New Orleans.

The ship allows an oil-water mix to enter through a series of slits near the bow, then puts the mixture through a series of tanks to separate oil from water, according to a Reuters report.

Grantham noted that the super-skimmer uses technology that "while based on well-understood scientific principles, is still a new tool in the fight against oil pollution."

The ruling on whether to put the super-skimmer into permanent use will be made by BP and the Coast Guard, said Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman.

-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta