Environmental Protection

NOAA Assists Effort to Decontaminate Commercial Ships from BP Oil Spill

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is overseeing a survey for a new ship anchorage site at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico for ships to undergo inspection and oil decontamination before entering ports.

The contract magnetometer survey of a proposed alternate anchorage site would ensure the safety of ships, their crews, and the marine environment by making sure that there are no buried pipelines in the proposed area that would be ruptured by ships lowering their anchors. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy to establish the alternative anchorage area.

Shipping vessels are currently facing increasing time delays and other challenges as they attempt to avoid the oil slicks caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Keeping maritime commerce going is important to many businesses, such as farmers who need to export their crops through the Gulf ports and the millions of stores throughout the country that rely on a constant flow of imports.

The survey took place at the Southwest Pass, the primary deep draft entrance to the Mississippi, which is used extensively by ships bringing commercial goods to the United States. The Lower Mississippi River ports are important players in the billion-dollar U.S. maritime economy.

Once the U.S. Coast Guard gives clearance, ships needing hull inspections for oil contamination from the ongoing spill could use this anchorage area for waiting.

NOAA awarded the task order to C&C Technologies of Lafayette, La., under the agency’s existing hydrographic services contract. The team from C&C Technologies deployed aboard a vessel under the command of the Naval Oceanographic Office. NOAA will update its navigational products based on the results of this survey and the Coast Guard's determination of the area's suitability as an anchorage location.

The Lower Mississippi River ports export over 50 million metric tons of corn, soybeans and wheat each year, more than 55 percent of all U.S. grains inspected for shipment. Grain market participants and Midwestern farmers need efficient port operations to export product, as do segments of the economy that rely on timely import arrivals. NOAA's work in ensuring efficient maritime transportation during this ecological crisis is key to a healthy U.S. economy.

NOAA is also developing new chart products for Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. While NOAA’s nautical charts are essential for safe navigation throughout the oil spill region, the agency continues to respond to specific charting requests that meet response needs. NOAA cartographers are supplying coastline contour data – depicting underwater surfaces – needed for planning boom placement. NOAA is also producing special nautical charts depicting points for water testing.

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