Giant skimmer tested by BP to clean up oil spill

A ship described by its owners as the world's largest oil skimmer was tested in the Gulf of Mexico at the weekend – and represents the latest hope for relief workers trying to clean up the mess from BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well, which has now been spewing crude into the ocean for 76 days.

The Taiwanese-owned vessel, A Whale, spent the weekend sucking up oily water from a 25-square-mile patch of sea just north of the leak site. Officials from the US Coastguard and BP were on board to assess its owner's claims that it could process half a million barrels of dirty water per day.

In theory, the 340 metre-long, 10-storey-high ship will collect polluted water from the surface of the sea using twelve slits, or "jaws" in the sides of its hull. The liquid will then be pumped through a series of tanks which decant the oil for storage on board, and then pump clean water back into the ocean. "In many ways, the ship collects water like an actual whale and pumps internally like a human heart," said Bob Grantham, a spokesman for TMT, the firm which owns the converted oil tanker. He described the skimmer as "the best solution to the Gulf of Mexico spill crisis" saying it would float across the sea "like a lawnmower cutting grass".

Test results were due by this morning. If all has gone to plan, the ship could indeed be a game-changer. The 21 million gallons of oily water that the vessel's owners claim it can clean each day would make it roughly 250 times more effective than the flotilla of converted fishing boats which have thus far been deployed against the spill.

At present, anywhere between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil are gushing into the Gulf each day, and even when weather conditions are good, relief workers are able to contain or burn off only 25,000. In total, just half a million of the estimated three million barrels of the oil that have spilled since 20 April have been accounted for. There is no prospect of actually stopping the leak until August, when two relief wells are expected to be completed by BP.

A Whale, which operates under a Liberian flag and was converted from a normal oil carrier in a Portuguese shipyard at its owner's expense, arrived in Louisiana on Wednesday. However the US coastguard and BP did not allow it to commence skimming the Gulf until Saturday.

That angered those critical of the way the clean-up operation has been handled, most notably Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, whose shoreline is bearing the brunt of the spill. "They've used the war rhetoric," he said. "If this is really a war, they need to be using every resource that makes sense to fight this oil before it comes to our coast."

Not everyone is convinced that A Whale will work, however. Its size means it can be used only in areas where a half-mile radius of sea is kept clear of other ships. And no one knows if the treated water it pumps back into the sea will meet environmental standards.

Many experts say the nature of the Gulf spill means that skimmers are ineffective. "In a case like the Exxon Valdez spill, where you had a lot of oil on the surface in a confined area, a vessel like this could have gone in and sucked up a whole lot," said Dennis Bryant, a former US coastguard. "But in the Gulf, where the oil is pretty well dispersed over a vast area, I don't see how it's going to make a large dent."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas