Coast Guard, cleanup efforts "held hostage" by weather

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U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft says all cleanup operations in the Gulf are being "held hostage" — all skimming, controlled burns and dispersant use has stopped, due largely to Hurricane Alex. Waves of 7 to 10 feet prevent skimmers to skim for oil — when seas rise beyond 3 feet, Zukunft says, the skimmers just end up gathering water.

Efforts to move the Helix Producer containment device in place, which was set to be up and running today, have also stopped. Seas need to be less than 4 feet to make the subsurface connection to the blowout preventer.

Closer to shore, where Zukunft says winds are at 25 knots, all skimmers have been brought in, and dispersant application has stopped, deemed ineffective against the winds and seas.

"Our large heavy skimmers can certainly stay out at sea by the spill site, but in terms of their ability to do any skimming, we really have to wait for those seas to come down," he says. "For 36, nearly 48 hours of weather not conducive to skimming —  it looks like this weather will persist another 24 hours. Perhaps 48. As soon as it does subside, we’re prepared to immediately launch and resume our attack on this oil...

"At the same time we have oil moving to Chandeleur Sound, so I’m very concerned with the impact this oil’s going to have in the area," he says. "Until this weather subsides all we can do is have everything ready ... and (we'll) remove this oil, once we have weather conducive to operations."

Meanwhile, BP is now under fire for its reported lack of any hurricane response plan in the event of an oil spill or for any disaster of this scope. Zukunft says the Coast Guard has a plan, which he says he has been "intimitely involved" with its development — but it's not ready to go public. "The only reason I’d be reluctant (to make it public) is because it’s dated. We’re possibly making revisions and updates to it," he says. "As we bring in other equipment and newer technologies, if there’s a plan out in the public, it’s the equivalent of having last year’s phonebook, and everyone’s address has changed."

The "fully integrated plan" is the product of several agencies working with the Coast Guard, including the Department of Defense and FEMA. It's now in its third revision.

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