Friday, September 02, 2011

09/02/2011 - Mobile River Oil Spill Containment Failure

Launch: Shirley's (US Hwy 90 across from battleship USS Alabama)
Launch Cost: Free
Destination: Mobile River to look for birds or wildlife that may have been affected by the recent Oil Spill. The oil spill happened at Gulf Coast Asphalt Company.
Distance: 7.5 miles (round trip)
Paddle time: 2 hours
Weather: Temp about 78 degrees, Winds 0-10 mph out of the east. Cloudy. Low tide. Current 0-1 mph. Except for a little gentle rain, tropical storm Lee did not affect this paddle at all.

Header Image - a motorboat goes blazing by the Coast Guard cutter "Stingray" while a barge moves northward in the river. The Coast Guard wasn't doing too well controlling boat wakes.

A little south of the Battleship I stopped for a moment to chat with the Alabama Marine Police who said Mobile River was still closed to river traffic. They said I couldn't miss the Coast Guard who were controlling the Mobile River shut down.

As I rounded the Choctaw Pass corner, two tugboats were docking the CMA CGM White Shark container ship. No sign of any river closure yet.

Now heading north in Mobile River, the Coast Guard cutter "Stingray" was seen anchored in the middle of the river. Also visible was oil sheen (a small trail seen in this photo) in the middle of the river. What was NOT visible was any sign of oil containment booms. That's odd. I thought the closure of Mobile River was because an oil boom was to be deployed across Mobile River to contain the oil spill from going into Mobile Bay. Guess not.

I talked to personnel on the Coast Guard ship who advised me that I did not have permission to go any further up the river. I told them I'm a river watch monitor and was there to look for any birds or wildlife that may be affected by the Oil Spill, which was the truth. The Stingray called Coast Guard Sector Mobile for me to ask for permission. A few minutes later the Stingray advised me that for my safety, they still could not allow me to proceed up river. Okay, can't argue with that.

So, I pedaled around near the Coast Guard cutter, through oil sheens, and watched in confusion. Here a motorboat is seen hauling ass down river while a tugboat is moving up river. Huh? Isn't the river closed to all boat traffic?

On the east side of the river I watched as large oil sheens floated down toward Mobile Bay. Why isn't there any oil boom deployed? Why are there ships going up and down the river while I am not allowed to? Guess they don't want me kayaking through the oil. Oops, too late...

So I monitored VHF radio communications to hear what was going on while looking for birds that might be affected by the oil spill, without going any further up river. A second Coast Guard vessel was escorting river traffic between the Cochane-Africatown USA Bridge and Choctaw Pass to make sure they did not leave wakes or carry oil sheens with them. So, why did I watch oil sheens flowing freely downstream while a Coast Guard Boat a few hundred yards away was doing nothing about it? Why is it that every vessel that asked the Coast Guard for permission to go upstream or downstream was granted permission, but this kayaker who asked for permission was denied access to use the River? That was not fair. If the Coast Guard was slowing down boat traffic so they would not leave a wake, that means for a kayaker, Mobile River would have been safer than ever. So, the concern of the Coast Guard for my safety was ill-advised. No need to worry about a kayak leaving a big wake...

Here are two tugs moving freely up river and in the distance, a tugboat pushing a load of barges was moving downstream. How can one Coast Guard boat monitor and escort 3 moving vessels in different locations at the same time? No wonder why oil was all over the river. Mobile River was not shut down to river traffic at all - it was just a blockade to kayakers who care about the environment. In terms of containment of this oil spill, so far it is failing. At the time of this kayak trip, oil was flowing freely into Mobile Bay.

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