Wreckage in Gulf Poses Problems

Monday, January 30, 2006
Many unmarked marine hazards listed in the Coast Guard's latest Local Notice to Mariners, such as missing oil platforms to sunken boats to unidentified debris fields have been reported in the weekly updates since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept through the GOM oil patch. Even as some wreckage is located and cleaned up, more lost and sunken platforms -- or pieces of them -- are being discovered and reported to the Coast Guard every week.

Since November, at least three ships have collided with wrecked oil platforms in the Gulf, with one incident resulting in one of the Gulf's largest oil spills. And with commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf about to shift into high gear, state officials in Louisiana said they are worried for the safety of tens of thousands of shrimpers and anglers who drag their nets and lures through the rig fields each year.

The Coast Guard postings reveal that more than 150 oil and natural gas structures have no warning lights. Many of those are also missing the fog warning sirens. Both types of warning signals are required under federal law. Compounding the confusion at sea, many of the objects reported to the Coast Guard, even toppled oil platforms, have apparently drifted since they were first discovered, making the wrecks a moving target when it comes to pinning their locations on updated nautical charts.

Some of the wreckage is adrift, present location unknown. Other things, including whole oil platforms, are described as being somewhere within several square miles of their previous locations. Still others -- like the sunken platform that ripped a 200-square-foot hole in an oil tanker in November and caused a spill estimated at somewhere between 1 and 3 million gallons -- have been found by their owners, but are marked only with floating plastic balls, and none of the lighted buoys that are required under federal law.

(Source: Mobile Register)

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