News: National Incident Commander: Navy small boat help valuable in oil spill response
Story by Joseph P Cirone
WASHINGTON – The Navy’s oil pollution control capabilities and expertise have proven valuable in the Gulf of Mexico, retired Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen told reporters at a recent press conference.
At the time that oil was freely flowing from the damaged BP Deepwater Horizon well, the Coast Guard called for help to respond to the oil spill. The Navy’s small boat assets and expertise were near the top of the wish list.
Before formally asking for the help, Allen, the National Incident Commander overseeing the spill response, discussed with naval leaders what resources might be available for dispatch to the disaster scene.
“I had several conversations with Gary Roughead [the Chief of Naval Operation] and Mike Mullen [the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff],” Allen told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The Navy’s concern for good environmental stewardship became an additional asset for the National Incident Commander’s challenging situation. “Large Navy bases have significant pollution control capabilities, just like large petroleum operations do,” Allen stated.
Allen said, “We asked the Navy for any excess skimmers they had. They immediately sent us a number of them.” The Navy Supervisor of Salvage sent all skimmers that were available, Allen reported.
“When we needed more, we needed to go to naval bases to ask them for skimming capability, but we also needed to go to facilities that were outside of the Gulf and have them move skimming capability there,” Allen continued.
Naval Support Activity Washington, was one of the Navy commands that deployed boats and crews to assist the Coast Guard, according to Chief Boatswains Mate Terry Wyman, NSAW’s port operations chief.
Wyman said Petty Officer 1st Class Elias Inoa, Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Farquhar and Petty Officer 3rd Class David Benjamin prepared a 29-foot boat, a backup to NSAW’s primary oil response vessel, and deployed with it to Joint Base New Orleans, La. in mid-June. Upon arrival, it was staged for use as an oil skimmer to help mitigate the impacts of the nation’s largest oil spill in history. While the NSAW crew returned to the nation’s capital in early August, the boat remained available for duty in the Gulf.
When asked how much the Navy’s skimmers were used and how helpful they may have been, Allen said, “Every skimmer was used and is still being used down there. The equipment that was down there was put to very good use.”
“Some of the Navy skimmers were actually really very useful in Barataria Bay [La.] where there was pretty shallow water, and some of the skimmers were very helpful to us,” Allen concluded
Completing its mission in the Gulf region, NSAW’s boat is due to return to the Washington Navy Yard in early September.