Image: Deepwater Horizon before explosion
Transocean  /  AP file
The Deepwater Horizon rig before April's devastating exposion. Vessels and aircraft will patrol a zone extemdomg 750 feet in all directions from the rig and its debris field.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/28/2010 7:09:37 AM ET 2010-10-28T11:09:37

The federal government has set up a security zone around the wreckage of an oil rig that exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the massive BP spill, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sits on the seafloor about 1 mile deep and about 1 mile from the BP well that spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude. To reach the actual rig would take very specialized equipment.

"It establishes what would be at any crime scene, the yellow tape around the perimeter of it," said Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman.

"It informs the parties that have the capabilities (to enter the zone) that they don't have the right to enter that space," the spokesman added.

Vessels and aircraft will patrol the zone that extends 750 feet in all directions from the rig and its debris field.

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It was needed to protect evidence for possible criminal and civil cases, the government, said, though it was not clear what prompted the action now, more than six months after the explosion.

The zone includes surface waters and the seafloor and will be in place for at least a year or even longer.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Louis Moore Jr. in New Orleans signed an order setting up the security zone on Oct. 8.

Fishermen who inadvertently venture into the security zone would be in violation of the court order.

But Hornbuckle said the security zone was not targeting fishermen and other boats that stray into the area by accident.

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He was unsure if there were warnings in the area to indicate that the area was off-limits. The Coast Guard did not return telephone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

'Ongoing investigation'
Justice Department court documents that outline the government's reasons for requesting the security zone were placed under seal.

The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the April 20 explosion.

Video: Claims up, shrimp catches down at BP spill six-month mark

"It is an ongoing investigation, and we will follow it aggressively where the evidence leads us," Hornbuckle said.

He said the government might need to retrieve items from the wreckage site.

Transocean, the company that operated the rig when it exploded, declined to comment on the government's move.

David Nicholas, a London-based spokesman for BP, told msnbc.com that the new security was "nothing we would comment on."

"Obviously we are still engaged in plugging the relief wells and things like that," he said. "If there is a Department of Justice edict in place, of course we will comply with it."

Asked if BP had been sending robot submarines or other equipment down to the sunken rig, Nicholas said he would check with the company's office in Houston and then provide a response.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Data: BP's internal findings

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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  1. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
  2. Image: Economic And Environmental Impact Of Gulf Oil Spill Deepens
    Mario Tama / Getty Images
    Slideshow (64) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 3
  3. Image: Oil Spill In The Gulf
    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
    Slideshow (81) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 2
  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
    Slideshow (53) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 1
  5. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion

Video: Spilling the truth about the Gulf oil spill

  1. Transcript of: Spilling the truth about the Gulf oil spill

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Months before the DeepWater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers, evidence now suggests both Halliburton and BP were aware the cement mixture used to seal the well from explosive gases wasn't stable, yet they went ahead with the job anyway. Investigators for the presidential commission today reported that cement provider Halliburton conducted two tests in February that showed its cement mixture wasn't stable. On March 8th , Halliburton notified BP about one of those tests. There's no indication BP acted. Then in April, just seven days before the explosion, Halliburton conducted two more tests using a slightly different mixture. In the first, the cement was found unstable but investigators say Halliburton never told BP . Investigators say Halliburton then changed the testing protocols and got one good test. Those results reported to BP after the explosion.

    Professor DON VAN NIEUWENHUISE (Professor, University of Houston): If the cement had worked, the disaster would definitely have been avoided. It -- like I said, it's the first line of defense.

    COSTELLO: The presidential commission asked an outside lab run by Chevron to run its own tests on the cement shown in these photos. Chevron 's letter to the presidential commission details nine separate tests. Chevron reports, quote, "We were unable to generate stable foam with any of the tests." Former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister .

    Mr. JOHN HOFMEISTER: BP makes a choice about what kind of a cement job it wants. It's my opinion, and it's clearly opinion, this was an effort to rush this job to conclusion.

    COSTELLO: While investigators say the cement job must have failed, they can't yet say whether it was the sole cause of the explosion. Representative Ed Markey is chairing a congressional investigation.

    Representative EDWARD MARKEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): It is clear that BP and Halliburton were more interested in their own bottom line than they were in what was going on at the bottom of the well .

    COSTELLO: Halliburton says it's studying today's report. BP says it has no comment. BP 's CEO Bob Dudley has declined an invitation to appear before Congressman Markey 's committee. Today Markey said he's hoping Dudley will

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