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updated 7/2/2010 2:56:23 PM ET 2010-07-02T18:56:23

BP and the Obama administration face mounting complaints that foreign offers of equipment are being ignored and not enough use is being made of the fishing boats and volunteers available to help clean up what may now be the biggest spill ever in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard said there have been 107 offers of help from 44 nations, ranging from technical advice to skimmer boats and booms. But many of those offers are weeks old, and only a small number have been accepted, with the vast majority still under review, according to a list kept by the State Department.

And in recent days and weeks, for reasons British oil giant BP PLC has never explained, many fishing boats hired for the cleanup have done a lot of waiting around.

A report prepared by investigators with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for Republican Rep. Darrell Issa detailed one case in which the Dutch government offered on April 30 to provide four oil skimmers that collectively could process more than 6 million gallons of oily water a day. It took seven weeks for the U.S. to approve the offer.

Story: Oil-eating Whale or ‘white elephant’?

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday scorned the idea that "somehow it took the command 70 days to accept international help."

"That is a myth," he declared, "that has been debunked literally hundreds of times."

He said 24 foreign vessels were operating in the Gulf before this week. He did not specifically address the Dutch vessels.

More than 2,000 boats signed up
The help is needed. Based on some government estimates, more 140 million gallons of crude have now spewed from the bottom of the sea since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, eclipsing the 1979-80 disaster off Mexico that had long stood as the worst in the Gulf.

Still, more than 2,000 boats have signed up for oil-spill duty under BP's Vessel of Opportunity program. The company pays boat captains and their crews a flat fee based on the size of the vessel, ranging from $1,200 to $3,000 a day, plus a $200 fee for each crew member who works an eight-hour day.

Rocky Ditcharo, a shrimp dock owner in Buras, Louisiana, said many fishermen hired by BP have told him that they often park their boats on the shore while they wait for word on where to go.

"They just wait because there's no direction," Ditcharo said. He said he believes BP has hired many boat captains "to show numbers."

"But they're really not doing anything," he added. He also said he suspects the company is hiring out-of-work fishermen to placate them with paychecks.

Chris Mehlig, a fisherman from Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish, said he is getting eight days of work a month, laying down containment boom, running supplies to other boats or simply being on call dockside in case he is needed. "I wish I had more days than that, but that's the way things are," he said.

A BP spokesman declined to comment.

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Allen angered
Newly retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the response effort, bristled at some of the accusations in Issa's report. He disputed any suggestion that there aren't enough skimmers being put on the water, saying the spill area is so big that there are bound to be areas with no vessels.

Allen said Friday there are roughly 550 skimmers now working in the Gulf — up from about 100 at the beginning of June — spread out among four states. The aim is to have more than 750 skimmers collecting oil by mid-July.

"We will continue to fight oil with as many skimmers as we can bring to bear on the water, while looking at every possible option for marshalling additional assets to impacted areas along the entire Gulf Coast," he said.

The Coast Guard said stormy weather in recent days has kept the many of the vessels from working.

The frustration extends to the volunteers who have offered to clean beaches and wetlands. More than 20,000 volunteers have signed up to help in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, yet fewer than one in six has received an assignment or the training required to take part in some chores, according to BP.

Some government estimates put the amount of oil spilled at 160 million gallons. That calculation was arrived at by using the rate of 2.5 million gallons a day all the way back to the oil rig explosion.

The AP, relying on scientists who advised the government on flow rate, bases its estimates on a lower rate of 2.1 million gallons a day up until June 3, when a cut to the well pipe increased flow.

By either estimate, the disaster would eclipse the Ixtoc disaster in the Gulf two decades ago and rank as the biggest offshore oil spill during peacetime. The biggest spill in history happened in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi forces opened valves at a terminal and dumped about 336 million gallons of oil.

The total in the Gulf disaster is significant because BP is likely to be fined per gallon spilled. Also, scientists say an accurate figure is needed to calculate how much oil may be hidden below the surface, doing damage to the deep-sea environment.

"It's a mind-boggling number any way you cut it," said Ed Overton, a Louisiana State University environmental studies professor. "It'll be well beyond Ixtoc by the time it's finished."

___

Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Orange Beach, Alabama, Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans, Harry R. Weber in Houston, and Seth Borenstein, Erica Werner and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Oil chases away some Gulf holiday tourists

  1. Transcript of: Oil chases away some Gulf holiday tourists

    KATE SNOW, anchor: Along the Gulf Coast , this would ordinarily have been a fun-filled weekend for vacationers heading to the beach for the Fourth of July weekend. But with coastal communities reporting their regular holiday crowd down 60 to 80 percent, residents and visitors are finding very little to celebrate. NBC 's Mark Potter reports now from Gulf Shores , Alabama .

    MARK POTTER reporting: For the Mitchy family visiting from Birmingham , Alabama , for the holiday weekend, finding this much oil on the Gulf Shores ' beach was a major shock.

    Mr. KIRK MITCHY: It's just something that really makes your heart hurt for the people that have to live off of this.

    POTTER: Kirk and Kelly Mitchy had hoped their children could still swim here, but seeing the mess quickly changed their minds.

    Ms. KELLY MITCHY: It's going to take years for them to figure out really what are the, you know, health risk of all this.

    POTTER: For eight-year-old Jack Mitchy , who really wanted to go in the water, it was a big disappointment.

    Mr. JACK MITCHY: There's so many people to blame, but it's just so sad. I was looking forward to going in there, but now I just -- heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to me.

    POTTER: In past years the Gulf Shores beach would be jammed now. But this year, there are very few people here.

    Mayor ROBERT CRAFT: Yeah, people aren't coming.

    POTTER: Gulf Shores ' Mayor Robert Craft says a poor Fourth of July turnout is an economic disaster.

    Mayor CRAFT: Fourth of July weekend is the most important weekend of the year for us. We make all of our money between Memorial Day and Labor Day , Fourth of July being the peak. And there's nobody in town.

    POTTER: In previous Fourth of July holidays, crowds filled The Hangout , a popular tourist spot. But this year, business is down nearly 70 percent.

    Mr. SHAUL ZISLIN (The Hangout Owner): This is it. This is -- this is the money time. Without this, there is no -- there is no getting through the off season.

    POTTER: It's a loss felt by many other coastal towns along the gulf as incoming oil chases most of the tourists away. Mark Potter , NBC News, Gulf Shores , Alabama .

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