From the New York Times:
European Pressphoto Agency
When I was aboard a Coast Guard cutter last week at the site of BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, a monster of a ship showed up to join the armada of drilling rigs, production ships, supply boats and skimmers in the area.
This new vessel dwarfed even the biggest of the rigs. It was A Whale, a 1,150-foot tanker and ore carrier that had been retrofitted at its Taiwanese owners’ expense as a “super skimmer.” The company, TMT Shipping, apparently has an unusual naming convention — another tanker is named B Elephant.
A Whale had come to the source of the oil disaster to see how well it could perform. (This was on Wednesday, a day before the oil stopped spewing when valves on a new cap were closed.) A team of Coast Guard experts was on board to evaluate the ship’s effectiveness in skimming large amounts of oil.
The company had claimed that the vessel could process more than 20 million gallons of oily water a day, sucking it in through ports in the bow and decanting it through a series of tanks until only oil sludge remained. From the start, many spill-response experts were doubtful, noting that the ship had been modified in a shipyard in Portugal shortly after the spill began without consultation with officials involved in the cleanup.
The test last week was actually the second for A Whale. The company had tried to demonstrate its skimming prowess earlier in the month. It didn‘t work very well then, but seas were rough and the overall verdict was that the results were inconclusive.
This time, on placid waters, the huge vessel was no more effective. The Coast Guard, announcing several days later that A Whale would not be used in the gulf after all, said that “the amount of oil recovered was negligible, and limited oil beyond a sheen was found in the cargo tanks.”...MORE