As tar balls and oil mats started washing up on Pensacola Beach early today, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen announced the first breakthrough of good news: the containment cap over the gusher has started to capture flow at a rate estimated at 1,600 barrels a day. He said that while it is not complete and those numbers are estimates, the method is having the effect of sucking up some of the oil and bringing it into containment vessels “like taking your finger off a straw.’’ Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has enlisted 928 charter boats, fishing boats and other “vessels of opportunity” to be deployed in Florida waters to be used for laying boom and skimming oil before it reaches shore. He called the effort their major emphasis that and “a huge force multiplier.” The Coast Guard is also preparing vacuum trucks to collect oil before it goes into Escambia Bay. In an interview with the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times, Allen said that while skimmers remain the most effective way to combat oil reaching the shores, the Coast Guard must constantly juggle which parts of the 1,300 miles of coast will see the most benefit and acknowledged that there may be some turf wars over deployment of resources between the coastal states. “I don’t think there is any doubt the resources are stretched fairly thin,’’ he said. "... We are adjusting the resources the best way we can and trying to be as responsive to local officials as possible.’’ Allen said that every available skimmer in the nation has been called into action, but not at the expense of oil operations in other parts of the country. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, there are operations along the Texas Coast and Mississippi River which must have the capability of responding to a spill. “It’s all hands on deck,’’ he said. “If we were to remove that, we would have to grant them a waiver and take a risk position.’’ Whether to make that trade-off will be an issue he discusses with the governors of the gulf states when he meets with them in New Orleans this afternoon, he said.“We’ve never been faced with a challenge to cover this amount of coastline,’’ which he said exceeds the shore line affected by the Exxon Valdez. There is a variety of vessels available, and those with the largest capability can’t be operated in most shallow waters, he said. Some operate with a boom between two vessels “that sucks in oil water and pipes it off to a barge.” Others systems have a rubber bladder or tank and transport the oil to a barge to take to shore. Allen said that because dispersants are not effective on weathered oil, there is no plan to use that anywhere near Florida’s shore. Allen said there is no indication that the oil identified in the Keys yesterday were connected to the spill. As the former commander in Miami from 199-2001, he said it is no unusual for vessel traffic to illegally discharge and they travel through the Florida straits. Allen responded to Attorney General Bill McCollum’s complaint that decision-making was being delayed and bottled up because local officials had to go through the unified command center in Mobile, Alabama. “The challenge with the command center is actually dealing with three states,’’ he said. In Louisiana, they delegated authority to officials in the local parishes when it became necessary but only with a unified command is it possible to assess where “to trade off where the resources are needed most.” He acknowledged that there may be some turf wars over deployment of resources between the coastal states. “I don’t think there is any doubt the resources are stretched fairly thin,’’ he said. “... We are adjusting the resources the best way we can and trying to be as responsive to local officials as possible.’’
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