Unified Command surveys ESS Pursuit catch for sulfur mustard

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – The Unified Command in New Bedford is surveying 504,000 pounds of clams for ordnance and traces of sulfur mustard, Saturday, at the Sea Watch International seafood processing facility where the catch has been isolated since Monday.

The clams were dredged June 6, 2010, by the fishing vessel ESS Pursuit along with eight canisters containing sulfur mustard, about 45 miles south of Fire Island, N.Y.

The Unified Command believes it is highly unlikely that the catch contains any ordnance or traces of sulfur mustard, but they will continue to treat the clams as hazardous waste as a precaution. Safety of the public and all personnel involved has been the Unified Command’s top priority since the beginning of the response.

Customs and Border Protection personnel will scan all 180 cages of clams using a Heimann Cargo Mobile Vision, or high-energy mobile x-ray scanning vehicle, to verify no ordnance are present.

The scanning process will continue 24 hours a day until the entire catch has been deemed free of ordnance, which could likely take at least two days to complete.

“Customs and Border Protection is happy to provide specialized equipment and trained personnel to help the Unified Command confirm that no ordnance are mixed in with the catch,” said Customs and Border Protection Acting Area Port Director William Ferrara. “One of our missions is to assist state, local and federal agencies, especially when it comes to public safety.”

Based on the results of the scan, the Unified Command will proceed to the next phase of the process and dispose of the catch in a safe and expeditious manner.

“Safety for all the crews and facilities involved continues to be our primary focus throughout this case,” said Coast Guard Capt. Verne Gifford, Unified Command incident commander. “We plan to work as efficiently as possible to minimize the economic impact to affected clam fishermen and the seafood processing facility, understanding the importance of meticulous decontamination and ultimately proper disposal of the catch.”

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