NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Tests on a supertanker adapted to skim large quantities of oily water from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico are inconclusive because of high seas, ship owner TMT Shipping Offshore said on Monday.
Tests on the so-called “super skimmer” conducted just north of the blown out BP Plc well were supposed to be completed on Monday but have been extended because of the weather, said spokesman Bob Grantham.
“After an initial 48-hour testing period results remain inconclusive in light of the rough sea state we are encountering,” Grantham said.
“Therefore, working in close coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, we will be undertaking an additional testing period to make operational and technological adjustments aimed at improving skimming effectiveness given the actual conditions we are encountering in the Gulf,” he said.
He said smaller skimming vessels were also struggling to operate in the conditions caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Alex, which passed through the Gulf last week.
The 1,100-foot (335 meter)-long ore and oil carrier named “A Whale” is seen as a potential savior of efforts to clean the oil pollution because it can collect 500,000 barrels (21 million gallons) per day of contaminated water.
It operates by allowing oily surface water into the ship through a series of 12 horizontal slits on the port and starboard sides of the ship near the bow. The liquid is then decanted through a series of tanks to separate oil and water.
Though the total amount of oil and water mix in the Gulf remains unknown, the ship’s capacity would vastly increase what is currently being skimmed by smaller vessels.
The “A Whale” underwent an initial test off the coast of Portugal where it was fitted out for its new role and passed with flying colors, crew members said.
As a result, the company expected little difficulty in proving that it could work in the Gulf.
If it passes the test, the Taiwanese parent company TMT hopes to secure a contract with BP to skim oil and it is also preparing two additional ships for the task.
Editing by Alan Elsner