Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday November 20th 2018


News: Tales From Gulf Waters

Boat Captains Tell Of Unreported Oil, Play-acting And Dispersant Tadpoles

By Rick Outzen

In May, Mark Williams, 49, came to Orange Beach, Ala. from Atlantic Beach, Fla. to captain a charter boat. He described himself to the IN as a “fish killing machine.” He got through one day of red snapper season before Roy Crabtree, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Administrator, shut down Alabama waters for fishing.

“That morning (June 1) we took a charter out into deep water and saw what looked like a lot of grass,” said Williams. “When we got closer, we saw it was mattes of oil in solid slicks. By that afternoon, oil was getting in our reels. Crabtree shut down fishing the next day.”

For the rest of June and much of July, Williams worked off and on as a deckhand on boats enlisted in the Vessels of Opportunity (VOO) program. “I was on the boat that first sighted tar balls and oil sheen in Pensacola Pass.”

Williams was part of the skimming operations at Orange Beach when mattes of oil washed onto its shores the following weekend. “We are Orange Beach, at the epicenter of where the oil hit in our area.

“The mattes were miles long,” Williams continued. “We pulled all that crap in and packed 100-150 pounds of the pom-pom and sock boom into the decon bags. It wasn’t until I went through training for my own boat that I was told we should put no more than 20 pounds into a bag.”

Later, Williams would see seven large shrimp boats five miles off Orange Beach and Perdido Key with two Coast Guard vessels accompanying them.

On July 27, his boat, “Mudbug,” was activated in the VOO program. While the media, BP and the Coast Guard were telling the public there was no more oil, Williams and other boat captains were assigned to find oil in Florida waters.

Three days later, Williams found remnants of dispersant in a canal in Santa Rosa Sound. He reported it to his O’Brien’s Response Management supervisor, Jason Campbell. That evening, Williams was told by O’Brien that it was only algae.

“No way,” said Williams. “It broke like glass and floated to the bottom.”

The next day, July 31, Williams found a “tea-type” stain on the water and followed it toward Fort Pickens, near the western tip of Pensacola Beach. “We found massive tar balls, both in quantity and size, in a small gulley. They ranged from the size of ping-pong balls to coconuts and were about three feet from shore.”

After that, Williams was taken off spill and tar ball watch and put on boom removal. In Big Sabine off Pensacola Beach, his crew sighted on Aug. 2, 1 to 3-inch tar balls. Campbell told him not to report any oil or tar balls anymore.

“We weren’t to put it on our report,” Williams said, concerning what Campbell told him. “We’re here for boom removal only.”

The IN did contact O’Brien’s about Williams’ claims. Tim O’Leary, vice president at Consulting Services Communications Group at O’Brien’s Response Management, sent the paper this statement by e-mail: “We have checked with our on-scene supervisor regarding this allegation. He denies that any such order was given to Vessels of Opportunity participants.”

Williams was deactivated from the VOO the following week on Aug. 11. He said that he was never impressed by how the program was run and that BP didn’t have any scientists or engineers running the skimming operations.

“It was run here by a bunch of out-of-work pipefitters. There was no rhyme or reason to all this. We were all shooting from the hip trying to figure this out. When it hit the beaches, they didn’t know what to do.”

In Mississippi, Mark Stewart, from Ocean Springs, has been concerned about the dispersant Corexit that has been used to break up the oil plumes. He was in the VOO program for 70 days before being laid off on Aug. 2.

Stewart, a third generation commercial fisherman, told the IN that while in the program, he was instructed to “play-act” for dignitaries. “Whenever a government official would be flying over our boat, we were told to put out all our boom and start skimming for show, even when there wasn’t any oil.”

For weeks, IN has heard stories of dispersants being sprayed off the shores of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Commercial fishermen have been appearing at public forums and press conferences from Biloxi to Panama City charging that BP and the Coast Guard are still spraying the toxic chemical Corexit on the oil plumes in the Gulf of Mexico, despite denials by the oil giant and federal officials.

On Aug. 22, Stewart reported to the IN that tanks of Corexit had been photographed on the state docks in the fishing community of Bayou La Batre, just south of Mobile, Ala. The photos were taken by Rocky Kistner, a communications associate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The four large, white plastic containers sit on pallets labeled “Nalco Corexit EC9005A. Oil Spill dispersant. Caution: may cause irritation with prolonged contact…do not get in eyes, on skin, on clothing….”

For Stewart, the tanks were further proof that Corexit is still being used, even though the Coast Guard claims no dispersants have been sprayed since mid-July. The commercial fisherman told the IN that he has seen boats in the Gulf with tanks visibly onboard, slowly patrolling the waters at night.

“They are very cautious,” said Stewart. “There was line from the tanks into the water behind the boat. It looked like they were putting it into the wheel wash.”

He said that the boats with the tanks have no Mississippi tag numbers or any identification. However, Stewart said that he and his crew definitely smelled chemicals when they were downwind of the boat.

Stewart said that commercial fishermen have given the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources samples of what they believe to be Corexit for the DMR to test. “They won’t tell us the results,” Stewart claimed.

At a recent press conference at the docks in Biloxi, Stewart and his fellow commercial shrimpers said that they have refused to trawl, even though state officials reopened waters last week, because they fear the toxicity of the waters and marine life due to the BP oil disaster.

Stewart said there are oil plumes in the water column and that he can see the oil that has been sprayed with Corexit. “It looks like a bunch of baby tadpoles all in the water. Some of them are over a foot long. They’re everywhere.” “We will be lucky if anything is alive after this, even us.”