No oil spill impact in Gulf of Mexico ports yet

HOUSTON Wed May 5, 2010 1:14pm EDT

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has not slowed ship traffic to central U.S. Gulf ports, and shipping lanes into the key port of New Orleans are expected to stay clear at least into Friday, officials said.

No ships entering the Southwest Pass at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the main deepwater entrance, have had to be cleaned due to having passed through or near the spill, Port of New Orleans spokesman Chris Bonura said.

In Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama, other ports potentially in the path of the spill, port officials said there had been no significant effects on shipping.

"We're open, and everything's running smoothly," a spokeswoman for the Alabama State Port Authority in Mobile said.

"We had a 666-foot ship come in last night. It's docked and working right now," said Don Allee, Mississippi State Port Authority director at the Port of Gulfport. The Eurus London was unloading general cargo and fruit, he said.

Operators of lightering tankers, which unload oil from supertankers too big to enter U.S. ports for trans-shipment to onshore terminals, also reported no significant impacts on operations.

"At this time, we are not seeing any impact on our operations," Bente Flo, a vice president of I.M. Skaugen SE, which operates a lightering service in the Gulf, said in an email.

Some of the fairways, or designated routes, into ports have been affected by the spill, but there are multiple ways in and the spill was at least 36 miles off the Mississippi-Alabama coasts as of midday Wednesday, port officials said.

Vessels entering Mobile Bay have been told by the Alabama state harbor master to certify themselves free of oil contamination, and the Coast Guard is making tentative plans for cleaning stations at Mobile, a spokeswoman said.

The Coast Guard has set up two cleaning stations on the lower Mississippi River to try to keep traffic moving if ships become contaminated entering the key ship and barge corridor.

(Reporting by Bruce Nichols; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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