Stormy seas kept most skimming operations from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill sidelined again on Thursday, as a giant vessel from Taiwan that could help the clean-up arrived in New Orleans, officials said.
Joe Boudrow, a Coast Guard Commander who is working in the Florida region, said skimming was ineffective in choppy seas and that the storm which lashed the area may delay these collection efforts until Saturday.
Skimming operations "were severely impacted by weather in the Gulf," he told journalists on a conference call. "There were basically no skimming operations offshore or near shore."
Boudrow said meteorologists were "predicting seas would be improved enough to resume skimming by the weekend," but that conditions were questionable for Friday.
Alex, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, churned through the Gulf of Mexico and then was downgraded to a tropical storm as it neared the high mountains in Mexico.
Boudrow said the storm had been pushing oil away from the Florida coast, reversing the flow of the recent past.
"The current storm surge and prevailing weather in the past few days have begun to push the oil to the northwest.. which is forcing more oil to the states of Louisiana and Mississippi."
He said beach clean-up operations were continuing in many areas, with local officials are especially anxious to keep the Gulf beaches clean to attract tourists for the upcoming July 4 holiday weekend.
Charles Diorio, a Coast Guard spokesman, said meanwhile that the Taiwanese vessel A Whale, believed to be the world's largest oil skimmer, had arrived in New Orleans and could be put to use in the clean-up.
The ship, which is nearly four football fields long, "is currently in New Orleans and is being inspected by a team of personnel from the Coast Guard and BP to see if we can employ it," Diorio said.
"Hopefully it will be decided in the next day or so," he added.
An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil a day has been gushing out of the ruptured well since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig for a BP well sank on April 22 some 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
Some 423 miles (681 kilometers) of US shorelines have now been oiled as crude gushes into the sea at an alarming rate, 10 weeks into the worst environmental disaster in US history.