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Hurricane Slows Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak Response


Hurricane Alex is forcing BP to suspend some cleanup operations for the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Strong waves are preventing many skimmer boats from doing their work in open waters.

Hurricane Alex is several hundred kilometers from the Gulf oil spill, but it still is causing problems for the cleanup effort. Alex was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane on Tuesday, and forecasts show it making landfall in Texas late Wednesday.

The National Hurricane Center has reported the hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 135 kilometers per hour.

Officials said the conditions at the site of the oil leak were only around 30 kilometers per hour, but they noted strong waves were causing problems.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the cleanup operation, says skimmer boats have suspended work in open waters.

"You can't get more than three to five feet [.91 to 1.52 meter waves] before you start having not very good results with skimming, especially offshore," he said. "We are able to continue skimming operations in places like Barataria Bay and other protected areas. We have a task force standing by. And as soon as the weather permits, we will be out on scene and beginning to skim," said Allen.

Skimmer boats have been a crucial tool in the cleanup operation, which has resulted in the collection of more than 106 million liters of oily water.

Another key effort is the containment cap that engineers are using to siphon oil from the damaged undersea well into surface vessels. Admiral Allen says crews on two vessels captured more than 25,000 barrels of oil on Tuesday.

BP has sent a third vessel to the scene to expand the capacity of the collection system to 53,000 barrels per day.

Admiral Allen says they are waiting for calmer seas before trying to attach the third vessel to flexible hoses that connect to the underwater wellhead.

"There are 24 bolts that have to be put through and connected. If you can imagine doing that on a very large vessel moving at sea, it is dangerous to do in anything other than calm conditions. So we are waiting to do that moving forward," said Allen.

Officials say some 6,800 vessels are involved in the cleanup effort, including several foreign ships.

Admiral Allen says that so far they have received 107 offers from foreign governments and international organizations to provide equipment or other assistance.

He says they are studying dozens of offers, and so far they have accepted nine offers to expand the equipment available to clean-up crews.

"Those have been provided to our folks who are out there acquiring whatever it is - boom, dispersant or skimming material - and they become part of the broader source of supply that we are pursuing," Allen said.

Officials say foreign contributions have come from several countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Mexico..

Related report by VOA's Elizabeth Lee

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