Coast Guard Cutter Juniper Skims oil in the Gulf of Mexico

By Ensign Andrew Kauffman

The Coast Guard Cutter Juniper, homeported in Newport, R.I., began oil-skimming operations off the Florida and Alabama coasts June 11, 2010, in support of the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The crew of the Juniper made the six-day, 1700-mile transit from Newport, R.I., to Pensacola, Fla., to utilize the cutters’ Spilled Oil Recovery System (SORS). The SORS system, consisting of a 42-foot outrigger arm, fast sweep containment boom, oil skimming pump, and three 4,200-gallon oil tanks, is capable of skimming 440-gallons of oil per minute.

The Juniper also works in conjunction with commercial vessels to pump directly into oil barges for increased skimming capability. While the Juniper has deployed the SORS system during annual training evolutions, it has never been used for a spill of this magnitude.

The Juniper, one of six 225-foot sea going buoy tenders temporarily assigned to the region for the spill, has recovered approximately 80,000 gallons of oil from the waters surrounding the gulf shoreline. Additional Coast Guard assets, including 175-foot coastal buoy tenders, patrol boats, and various Coast Guard aircraft are also working throughout the region to reduce the amount of oil reaching the beaches. Coast Guard cutters and aircraft assigned to the response hail from Newport to Hawaii.

The recovery efforts in and around the Gulf of Mexico can be broken down into four lines of defense. The larger offshore recovery vessels provide the first line of defense from the spill by recovering or completing controlled burns at the source of the spill. Larger oil slicks not collected at the source of the spill are then recovered by Coast Guard vessels, like the Juniper,between 3 and 20 miles off the coast. The vessels are directed to the oil via Coast Guard and National Guard aircraft and privately owned spotting vessels patrolling the region. The third line of defense from the spill comes from vessels of opportunity, primarily fishing and small skimming vessels, who can work closer to the shorelines to collect the smaller oil patches and tar balls. Containment booms and beach crews make up the final line of defense by collecting oil as it approaches or reaches the beach.

The Juniper has been assigned under the Unified Area Command (UAC), located in New Orleans, and will remain deployed as long as required to assist with the oil spill recovery efforts.

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