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‘We’re waiting for the oil’

On May 4, while petroleum company BP and the Coast Guard were trying to stop the oil gushing from its Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, charter Capt. Tom Becker, one of thousands of commercial watermen whose livelihoods are threatened by the spill, was waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting to see how this disaster would unfold.


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Becker, of Biloxi, Miss., is captain of the 40-foot custom sportfisherman The Skipper. He hasn't seen a threat to his livelihood as potentially catastrophic as this one in his 25 years of fishing.

Fifteen days after an April 20 explosion killed 11 oil rig workers and ruptured the BP well, it still was spewing thousands of gallons of crude a day into the Gulf. At the time the slick was hovering 25 miles off the Chandeleur Islands in easternmost Louisiana. Becker worried as the toxic blanket spread east toward Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. NOAA had closed all fishing off Louisiana east of the Mississippi River and in federal waters off Mississippi. Inshore fishing was still permitted.

Four days later - as of Saturday, May 8 - the oil had reached shore, tar balls were washing up on Dauphin Island at the mouth of Mobile Bay and helicopters were expected to drop sandbags in Louisiana to guard against the crude washing up on beaches. NOAA expanded the fishing ban May 7.

"The charter boat industry is not getting calls, or the calls we are getting are concerned about the possibility of canceling a trip," says Becker, who had just lost a two-day charter for a party of 10 - worth $9,600 to him. "That's a lot of money for hotels, a lot of money for me, and I'm not the only one." The charter captain also was worried the oil would devastate the fisheries upon which so many commercial fishermen and charter boat operators depend.

Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and cobia all were spawning as the crude oozed. The slick could wipe out or severely deplete a year class, drive out breeding stock and kill shrimp, oysters and crabs, he says.

It could happen - or maybe not. The worst part is not knowing.

"I am very concerned," he says. "I'll be 69 in July. How many years can I sit around unemployed?"

Things were still uncertain May 4. For Becker, it was like sitting around waiting for a hurricane. "Only the oil is moving so much slower than a hurricane. We're waiting for the oil," he says. "If it comes here, we're in trouble."

So many others were waiting, too, along with Becker, as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist requested $50 million in federal funds, calling the incident "an environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions."

Click here for tips from BoatU.S. on how to protect your boat.

Click here for tips on cleaning boats affected by the Gulf oil spill.

In this issue:

‘We’re waiting for the oil’
Coast Guard Photo Contest winners
Port for two teen solo-circumnavigators
Tom Neale’s ICW Log: Part III

Comments (4) Comments are closed
4 Tuesday, 11 May 2010 18:32
Bob Holley
Any chance a torpedo could be sent down the actual oil pipe in the well and exploded far enough down to rupture the pipe colapsing area and seal off the oil
3 Tuesday, 11 May 2010 11:53
Why is the Governor having to ask the Federal Gov't for $50 million in relief? Why should the US taxpayer shoulder another burden? What about $3.00 + at the pump. Shouldn't BP have a nice reserve of $Billions from raping the American consumers at the gas pump. Oh, I so easily forget that major oil companies are the largest financial supporters to the thiefs in our congressional body.
2 Tuesday, 11 May 2010 00:54
Captain Joy Sherman, Joyridecharters.com
It's an awful feeling to be helpless in stopping the devastation.
How is it that these hundreds of oil rigs are allowed to be there with no safety checks on the "what ifs"? It's simply not acceptable. This is the result of lobbyists being paid millions by the oil companies to get legislation passed. Obama signed authorization to allow more drilling offshore, days before this explosion, now there is a moratorium on it.
I've always said it takes a tragedy for people to take notice. This might be that tragedy. It will also take consumers as a whole to wake up, become conscious of how we drive and use energy. When we slow down, the companies will have no choice but to slow down as well.
What will happen to the US coastline when it moves towards the Florida Keys around and up the East Coast?
I hate to think of all of us who make our living on the water what will be in store for us.
It's time for people to take a stand and be the change we need in the world.
Captain Joy Sherman
1 Monday, 10 May 2010 21:40
Capt. T. Poster
We all are to balme... do you use oil products? Everyone does all day, everyday!
fbtwit yt