Oil spill cleanup ends near Mississippi’s mouth

Published 7:26 pm Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ships may soon be able to resume normal speeds near the mouth of the Mississippi River because crews there have finished cleaning oil spilled two weeks ago, the Coast Guard said Tuesday.

Ships have had to move at their slowest safe speed for the entire 100-mile stretch from New Orleans to the gulf since a tanker and barge collided at New Orleans two weeks ago, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil from the barge.

The Coast Guard will modify that safety zone as cleanup crews finish work along certain stretches, Petty Officer Adam Baylor said. State and federal officials have said cleanup will end in an area when continuing the work would damage the environment more than leaving whatever oil remains.

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Some cleanup crews were moved Tuesday from the river’s lower reaches to more heavily contaminated upriver shoreline, Baylor said.

The Coast Guard has not yet decided where and when ships will be able to resume normal speeds.

Salvage workers pumped more than 71,000 gallons of oil out of the barge on Tuesday, Baylor said. A Coast Guard news release said more than 109,000 gallons of oil and water have been pumped from the barge this week.

The bow section, sitting nose-up in the water, was pumped out first. The stern section, believed intact, is on the river bottom; the two are connected by the wreckage of the barge’s center tank.

Once water replaces the oil in the tanks, they will be cut apart and hoisted out separately.

The Coast Guard said 16 birds, six reptiles and six mammals have been caught for cleaning. Three birds, one turtle and one alligator have been released after cleaning.