Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Friday, 25 July 2008 10:47 UK

Ships blocked after US oil spill


Oil spill closes Mississippi

Commercial shipping has been severely disrupted following an oil spill on the Mississippi River, a busy shipping waterway in the United States.

Dozens of cargo ships and tankers are stuck in a stretch of water between the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans - one of the world's busiest ports.

A barge and tanker collided, spilling more than 400,000 gallons (1.5m litres) of fuel oil into the river.

It could take days to reopen the shipping lane, coastguards say.

Nearly 100 miles (160km) of the river has been closed due to the spill and efforts to clean up the oily sheen left by largest oil spill on the river since 2000 could take weeks.

Workers use absorbent mops to soak up fuel oil on a bank of the Mississippi River in Jesuit Bend, La., Thursday, July 24, 2008.
Hundreds of workers have been deployed in the clean-up operation
"Think in terms of days for the opening and think in terms of weeks for the clean-up," Captain Lincoln Stroh of the US Coast Guard was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

The river is an important export route for grain from the American mid-west, and links oil refineries and coal terminals.

Between 55 and 65% of all US corn, soybean and wheat exports leave from the Gulf of Mexico. Chris Bonura, spokesman for the Port of New Orleans said the port could lose about $100,000 (50,285) in fee revenues each day the river stretch remains closed.

'Fast-moving river'

Authorities have deployed a fleet of ships to help with cleaning up the fuel oil, which is threatening to contaminate the area's drinking water.

Clean-up crews are working to clear spilled oil from the centre of the river and open a shipping lane there.

The spill happened two days ago when the tanker Tintomara, owned by Whitefin Shipping Co of Gibraltar, hit an American Commercial Lines barge.

The 600ft (182m tanker, carrying styrene and biodiesel, split the 190ft (58m) barge in half, dumping the fuel.

"This is a very large, very fast-moving river. It makes the job very difficult to contain the oil," Charlie Henry, scientific co-ordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

Officials are optimistic that environmental damage can be contained and say there have been no reports of problems from air quality tests.

Wildlife officials reported spotting only a few ducks and one egret coated with oil.

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