Rescue Over, Salvage to Begin

Tuesday, February 24, 2004
The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded its search for five crewmen missing since their offshore supply vessel sank near Pilottown, La., Saturday, and is, as of Tuesday, February 24, overseeing recovery and salvage operations to safely remove the vessel from the Southwest Pass.

The Coast Guard called off its search and rescue efforts at about 5 p.m. after a final search of the area failed to locate any survivors. Coast Guard assets have been continuously involved in the search since they arrived at the scene of the accident at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, February 21. Also assisting in the search were personnel and resources from Plaquemines Parish, the New Orleans Port Authority, the La. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Navy.

Coast Guard personnel are working around-the-clock to oversee the safe re-opening of the Southwest Pass. A salvage plan from Bisso Marine was submitted to and approved by Coast Guard Marine Safety Office New Orleans Sunday afternoon.

"The Coast Guard is working closely with the owners of the LEE III and Bisso Marine Company, Inc., the company that has the contract for recovery and salvage operations. This is an extremely challenging operation given the size of the vessel and high water levels on the Mississippi River," said Capt. Ron Branch, commanding officer of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office and Captain of the Port in New Orleans.

"Safety of the people on scene is paramount. Many people have been working around-the-clock putting this operation together. Every effort is being made to complete the recovery and salvage operations and re-open the river to maritime traffic in a timely and safe manner."

Listed below are some of the details on the ongoing recovery and salvage operations:

· Contracted dive operations started at about 7:30 a.m. today and focused on victim recovery and securing the Lee III for salvage.

· A salvage technical consultant from the U.S. Navy is en route from Washington, D.C., to assist the MSO and will arrive on scene today.

· The Capt W A Bisso Jr and the Little Joe, both dive support vessels are on scene, along with 10 divers and numerous support personnel to conduct around-the-clock salvage operations. The Lili Bisso, the Cappy Bisso and the Boaz, all heavy-lift equipment barges, are due to arrive tonight or early Tuesday morning.

· Environmental cleanup contractors have recovered 630 gallons of fuel oil. About 30,000 gallons of fuel was reported to be aboard the Lee III. (MEDIA NOTE: earlier reports of 5,000 gallons being recovered were inaccurate. The correct amount is 630 gallons).

· 1,000 feet of hard boom, 5,000 feet of sorbent boom, six work boats, three skimmers and 25 personnel from Environmental Safety & Health, an oil clean-up contracting company, are on scene to clean up the lost fuel.

· MSO New Orleans personnel are on scene to help coordinate the recovery and salvage operations.

· There are currently 32 deep-draft vessels waiting to enter the Southwest Pass and 25 waiting to depart. Once the river re-opens, the MSO and its Vessel Traffic Center will work with pilots to develop a plan to coordinate the safe transit of all maritime traffic in and out of the Southwest Pass. According to the state river pilots, by midnight tonight approximately 43 deep-draft vessels will be waiting to enter the Southwest Pass and 45 will be waiting to depart. The Coast Guard Cutter Pompano, an 87-foot patrol boat from Gulfport, Miss., and a rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans were on scene earlier today in the effort to find the missing crewmembers.

The 178-foot offshore supply vessel Lee III sank soon after it and the Zim Mexico III, a 534-foot Antiguan-flagged cargo ship, collided at about 5:20 a.m. Saturday in the Mississippi Delta, about 60 miles south of New Orleans. The cause of the accident remains under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard.

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