The US Coast Guard reacted rapidly after approximately half a million gallons (2.3 million litres) of crude oil spilled from a Bahamian-registered tanker into the Mississippi 60 miles (95 km) southeast of New Orleans, causing the biggest spill in US waters in more than a decade. The tanker ran aground on 28 November, and soon after the spill the US Coast Guard closed 29 miles of the river to traffic.

Louisiana State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary James Jenkins Jr. said that the spill’s impact on wildlife was equivalent to dodging a bullet. At risk were 300,000 migratory geese and ducks that have settled into the marshes and bays of eastern Plaquemines Parish near the mouth of the river, as well as other millions of oysters and fish. Oyster beds in the area show no signs of contamination and that there have been no reports of fish kills. Officials said that it was fortunate that the wind and tide pushed the oil to the river’s west bank, keeping it concentrated and minimising harm to wildlife in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge on the east bank.

The river has since been reopened to traffic whilst a massive effort to clean up the oil continued from the tanker, owned by Marine Oil Trader 3 Ltd. of Monrovia, Liberia. Coast Guard officials said the cleanup, which involved more than 150 federal and state environmental workers and industry personnel, could last two weeks. At the time of publishing edie, only a fraction of the oil had been collected, but most had been contained, and about 30% of the spill was expected to evaporate. Workers from cleanup companies throughout the country were collecting the floating sludge with vacuum trucks, skimmer boats and absorbent materials. Drinking water supplies have not been affected.

Three lawsuits have been filed against the tanker’s owners, two by fishermen, who say that the spill hurt their livelihood, the other was by several local business owners. A US Coast Guard investigation is underway. There is suspicion because vessels running aground in the soft mud-bottom Mississippi don’t usually rupture their tanks, as was the case with the tanker Westchester, leading some to believe it may have been punctured by dropping the anchor.

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