Nightly News   |  July 01, 2010

'A Whale' enters Gulf

After Hurricane Alex forced BP to halt cleanup efforts, a massive South Korean oil tanker retrofitted for oil skimming awaits government approval to join the battle to contain the spill. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

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ANN CURRY, anchor: Now to the Gulf of Mexico , where today the BP oil disaster became one of the worst oil spills in the world. According to government estimates, more than 140 million gallons have now spewed into the gulf. NBC 's Anne Thompson now joins us again tonight from Venice , Louisiana . Anne :

ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Ann. We never got the thunderstorms that were forecast for the entire day here in Venice , but seas did reach the height of five feet, and that was enough to shut down cleanup operations for a third straight day. And tonight BP officials say it could be Saturday before weather conditions are good enough to put the crews back to work. Unimpeded under gray skies, the oil seeps into the marshes near Louisiana 's Baritaria Pass .

Mr. BOB DUDLEY (BP Gulf Coast Restoration Organization President and CEO): The cleanup effort has not been perfect...

Today BP promised a beefed-up response, nearly doubling the number of skimmers and using more planes, even a blimp, to track the path of the oil and alert gulf communities.

THOMPSON: We're learning as we go. It hasn't been perfect, or you wouldn't see sights like that. But the effort has really doubled in the last month.

Mr. DUDLEY: Could this ship be a big help? The A Whale makes a dramatic impression even on the mighty Mississippi . Billed as a super skimmer that can collect a half million barrels of oily water in 10 hours, it is 3 1/2 football fields long. How high up are we going? To get on the mammoth vessel, you are hauled up 10 stories. This massive ship was built in South Korea to carry iron ore and oil, retrofitted in Portugal to separate oil and water , and is now here in Louisiana hoping to join the cleanup effort. It collects oily water through a dozen vents on either side of the ship's bow. Chief Officer Mohan Singh Bais calls them jaws. So most of the ships don't have this.

THOMPSON: No ship have this? I say no ship have this.

Mr. MOHAN SINGH BAIS: This is the first of its kind?

THOMPSON: This is the first kind. Yes.

Mr. BAIS: The oil and water then go down through pipes to be separated in tanks, the same way oil and water are separated when oil tanks get cleaned. The government is considering the offer, but says the giant ship has limited capability. And the limits are that the ship works best when the oil is freshest, and so it would have to work near the well head site, and that's already a very congested area. So they're trying to figure out where it would fit in. The A Whale is on its way to the gulf tonight for a test. Ann :

THOMPSON: All right. More solutions definitely are needed there. All right, Anne Thompson , thanks so much.