Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter headed to Gulf of Mexico oil - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter headed to Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Jeffrey Randall Jeffrey Randall

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A top White House aide said on Sunday that the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico may be the biggest environmental disaster the country has ever faced. Now, a Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter is heading to the site to assist other vessels in the cleanup.

The Cutter Walnut was scheduled to set sail for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for a marine debris sweep. But after getting the call, the crew quickly restructured its deck equipment to go from coral reef cleanup to oil spill cleanup.

The Walnut is 225-feet long, has a crew of about 50 people, and boasts state-of-the-art communications equipment and oil skimming capabilities. It's going on a roughly 6,000 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico to help deal with an environmental catastrophe.

"When we have a spill of national significance, something as large and with this much magnitude, you need as much capability and capacity you can to remove that oil," Jeffrey Randall, U.S. Coast Guard commanding officer, said.

BP announced on Saturday that its so-called Top Kill approach to plug the leak had failed. Oil continues to flow.

"There was talk starting about Monday afternoon or Tuesday of potentially using the Walnut to respond," Randall said. "Once we received word that Top Kill did not work as expected, then we went ahead and mobilized."

Designed after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, the Walnut comes equipped with a boom and pump oil collection system.

"The skimmer sucks the oil in and pumps it into a bladder," Randall said. "That bladder is then filled up, transferred to another vessel that takes it away."

Coast Guard officials say the crew goes through annual spill response training, but this will be the first time it'll actually put oil in the equipment.

"Anytime you get to do this for real, you always build your capacity to do it again," Randall said.

Family members are proud.

"He's helping," a crew member's young daughter said. "There's a pipe that blew up in the ocean and it's oil, not mud. It's black."

"We're sad to see him go," Meredith Cratsenberg, crew member's wife, said. "But we're excited that he's off on a really important and great mission."

"I think we can all empathize with the people over there," Randall said. "We are an island community that's very connected to our ocean, much the same way those people in the Gulf of Mexico are very connected to their coastal areas."

Officials say it will take nearly three weeks for the cutter to reach the spill site. The deployment is expected to last four months.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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