Tropical Storm Alex is weakening and moving inland in Mexico, but it continues to generate rough waters that are hampering oil spill cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico

U.S. National Incident Commander Thad Allen told reporters Thursday in Washington that skimmers and other boats will be back out as soon as the waters calm.  He said lightning strikes Wednesday forced the process to be shut down.  He said the shutdown resulted in 23,000 barrels of oil being collected or burned off Wednesday, slightly less then the 25,000 barrel daily average.

Allen also confirmed that a tanker ship retrofitted to be used as a giant skimmer is now in the Gulf and is being assessed for use on the spill.

Owners of the Taiwanese-flagged vessel say it can skim up to 50,000 barrels of oily water per day.  

Allen said the ship was sent to the Gulf at the ship owner's expense.  He said he is eager to see how it works, but that its size could present a problem.  He said the immediate area around the leaking well - where the ship could be most effective - is heavily congested with boats and other equipment.

Allen said that perhaps the biggest setback caused by the storm was a delay in the hook-up of a third containment vessel that could more than double the quantity of oil collected daily.  He said the vessel is now expected to be in place next week.

Thursday also marked Allen's retirement as a U.S. Coast Guard admiral.  He will continue to serve as National Incident Commander for the federal oil spill response effort and as a senior executive with the Department of Homeland Security.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami say Alex remains a tropical storm but its winds have diminished.  The forecasters expect the storm will dissipate as it moves over the Mexican highlands overnight Thursday.

An April 20 explosion on a rig leased by BP killed 11 workers and caused the leak that has been pouring tens of thousands of barrels of crude each day into the Gulf.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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