Pensacola, Florida
Monday August 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.”

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