Huge oil-skimming ship makes Virginia stop en route to Gulf of Mexico

With no assurances it will be allowed to join the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup, a Taiwanese-owned ship billed as the world's largest skimming vessel was preparing to sail Friday evening to the scene of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The ship -- the length of 3 1/2 football fields and 10 stories high -- is designed to collect up to 500,000 barrels of oily water a day through 12 vents on either side of its bow. It docked in Norfolk en route to the Gulf from Portugal, where it was retrofitted to skim the seas. The ship and its crew of 32 were to leave Virginia waters Friday evening. The owners of the "A Whale" said the ship features a new skimming approach that has never been attempted on such a large scale. They are anxious to put it to its first test in the Gulf. "We really have to start showing people what we can do," said Bob Grantham, project coordinator for TMT Group, a Taiwan-based shipping company. The company is still negotiating with the Coast Guard to join the cleanup and does not have a contract with BP to perform cleanup work. The company also needs environmental approval and waiver of a nearly century-old law aimed at protecting U.S. shipping interests. Cool! Being a mariner, I love big ships.

The effort received the endorsement of at least one Louisiana resident.

Edward Overton, a professor emeritus from Louisiana State University, was among the visitors at the port where the A Whale was berthed. He called the current cleanup inadequate.

"We need this ship," he told TMT executives. "That oil is already contaminating our shoreline."

It boggles the mind that these efforts might be tied up in more red tape. I mean, compared to what is happening, what does anyone have to lose in giving it a whirl?

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