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Friday, July 02, 2010

Status of the Super-Skimmer A Whale: Uncertain!

This is so ridiculous it bears further scrutiny. MSNBC has a pretty good story on what's going on with the A Whale. You can read it here.

But, if I may, (what the hell, it's my blog), let me debunk some of the over analytical BS espoused in the article by the so-called experts.

“I don’t think the concept is that bad, but I don’t see how in this situation it’s going to be a significant player,” said Dennis Bryant, a former Coast Guard officer who worked on implementing regulations required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 before retiring and starting a maritime consulting business in Gainesville, Fla.

“In a case like the Exxon Valdez spill, where you had a lot of oil on the surface in a confined area, a vessel like this could have gone in and sucked up a whole lot,” he said. “But in the Gulf, where the oil is pretty well dispersed over a vast area, I don’t see how it’s going to make a large dent.”

Excuse me. First of all, the oil wasn't spread over a vast area two months ago. It was in a fairly organized slick. In fact, it was entering the loop current; even now, spread out in the Gulf and patchy, it is still a incredibly massive amount of oil. Secondly, this ship has the size and endurance to stay at sea for a very long period of time, and it can supposedly suck up an oil/water mix and separate the mix for as long as it takes to fill its hold. Why poopoo the thing beore it has a chance to prove itself? Third, who is this guy and why isn't somebody asking him why the oil spill abatement and prevention regulations he helped establish, or the assets of the Marine Spill Response Corporation, another offshoot of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, are obviously so inadequate?

Whether the A Whale, a Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-flagged ship, will even join the cleanup is unclear. TMT converted the oil/bulk ore carrier at a Portuguese shipyard over 10 days in early June without first obtaining a commitment from BP, which would need to sign the contract to enlist the ship in the spill response. Nor did it check with the U.S. government to ensure that the skimming operation would meet U.S. environmental and maritime standards.

Who cares? Thank God there is someone around in the world who has the strength of will and intestinal fortitude to make a move and take a financial risk without waiting for the U.S. government to get off its bureaucratic ass.

Bryant, the former Coast Guard official, said his research suggests that TMT had difficulty lining up business for the A Whale — the first of eight hybrid oil/ore carriers it has ordered from South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries — since it was delivered early this year.

“If the ship were gainfully employed, would the owner have gone through this conversion?” he said. “If it’s making a profit, you don’t take it out of service to convert it on a whim like that.”

And Michelle Wiese Bockmann, markets editor for the seafaring chronicle Lloyd’s List, speculated that TMT CEO Su, who owns 51 percent of the privately held company, may be using the attention focused on the BP disaster to publicize his new vessel.

OK, this guy Bryant is starting to sound like someone who thinks the future of marine spill abatement is what he helped make of it in 1990. Wrong! New, unique problems (such as a deep water oil well blowout) require new, unique solutions and people who are willing and able to address a crisis without fear or nonconstructive negativity.

Even given the speed of the decision, Bryant said, the lack of planning before sending the ship to the Gulf is confounding.

“They apparently made the conversion to the ship prior to talking to the Coast Guard or EPA or BP,” he said. “They just sailed over and said, ‘Here we are.’”

He also wonders what TMT will do with the ship if it is not able to join the cleanup or after it ends its work for BP.

Really? The MSRP, which I assume Bryant helped to establish, manages 16 Oil Spill Response Vessels (OSRVs) of about 200' in length. These are stationed in ports around the U.S. and for the most part they sit idly at their berths while they wait for something to happen.


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