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Big waves in the Gulf sideline oil skimmers again

(EDITORS: Story includes information that is in OILSPILL-PAYMENTS:TBW.)

By Richard Fausset

Los Angeles Times


ATLANTA — High seas once again idled oil-skimming boats across much of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, as some coastal communities improvised ways to woo tourists despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which forced closure of their waters to swimmers over the holiday weekend.


Skimmers continued to trawl the gulf off Louisiana, but big waves kept them from doing any work in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, said Perry Hatcher, a spokeswoman for the oil spill command center in Mobile, Ala. Skimmers had been sidelined for a number of days last week as well, when Hurricane Alex kicked up waves as high as 7 feet as it passed to the west.

Crews in the three states where skimmers couldn't operate "used this as an opportunity to get some new boom out there that had been damaged by the (hurricane), and to resupply vessels, and to just sort of take stock of what's going on," Hatcher said.

Farther out to sea, the Coast Guard was testing the efficacy of a super-skimming ship, A Whale, a modified tanker 1,100 feet long and 10 stories high that might be able to take up to 300,000 barrels of oil-water mixture every 10 hours or so, said Erica Fouche, a spokeswoman at the spill response headquarters in New Orleans.

Fouche said it was unclear when officials would decide whether the ship would be deployed full time in the deep sea, where large amounts of oil continue to befoul the water's surface, some of which has been burned off. The BP leak is gushing up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day, according to government estimates.

The massive vessel, owned by TMT, a Taiwanese shipping company, was apparently facing the same trouble as the smaller skimmers closer to shore: the weather. Waves of 10 feet and higher were "not permitting optimal testing conditions," a TMT spokesman, Bob Grantham, told The Associated Press.

Cleanup crews on land, meanwhile, were a holiday reality on a number of beaches. In Louisiana, crews searched for oil deposits that had been buried by sand because of hurricane winds. More recently, heavy waves eroded the sand, revealing new contamination, particularly in the town of Grand Isle, La.

Farther east, in the Alabama resort communities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, tar balls continued to wash up on the beaches, but civic boosters remained undaunted. On "The Beach Is Calling," a YouTube channel sponsored by the cities, local businessman Patrick Bussey acknowledged in a daily video report that double red flags were out along the beach, meaning swimming was off-limits.

Bussey instead encouraged visitors to consider a trip to Waterville USA, a 20-acre theme park with an artificial surfing wave, waterslides and go-karts.


In Washington on Sunday, Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, announced that so far, about $130 million has been paid out to help businesses, employees and others hurt by the oil spill. The $130 million does not include funds from a $20 billion escrow account that is being set up by BP to assist victims of the spill, he said.

"You have to look at each and every case," Feinberg said on "Fox News Sunday." ''Are you losing business this year because you can't take charter fishermen out to fish? You can't take a charter boat for sightseeing? You can't go into the marshes of Louisiana?"

Feinberg stressed that not everyone in the Gulf would receive aid and that potential victims would have to prove damages.

"Oil, physical presence of oil, should not and will not be the only requirement" for help, he said. "There are going to have to be some tough decisions made as to who is eligible and who is not eligible. And so I will look at the claims; I'll look at the underlying facts of those claims."

Feinberg, an attorney who specializes in mediation, previously oversaw the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And he has administered compensation for top business executives of companies that received federal bailout money.

This time, he said, "I'm working for the people in the Gulf. I want to try and maximize as much compensation as I can do, fairly and consistently, to the people I'm trying to serve down there."


(Richard A. Serrano in the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.)



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