Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Musings from the bridge

It is my habit to walk the Biloxi Bay Bridge from Ocean Springs to Biloxi and back when I visit my parents on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Since the heat index was expected to rise over 100 today, I set out early in the morning for my walk.  The bridge was teeming with walkers, young and old.  On the pier of the Ocean Springs Yacht Club at the base of the bridge, I was pleased to see a sandhill crane.  For a moment, I could almost forget that an ominous black cloud of crude was bearing down on the Magnolia State from her southern aqueous border.  That mental respite would not last. (Photo by Chief Petty Officer William McAnally, USCG)

As I reached the highest point on the bridge I saw two large commercial shrimp boats emerge from underneath the span heading out toward the Gulf.  I really didn't think much about it,  Then I saw another.  And another.  They just kept coming.  On the return leg of my walk, there were shrimp boats lined up all the way to the horizon, with others joining from the Ocean Springs harbor to the east and the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor to the west.  It was quite surreal.  In my forty-plus years of living in and visiting the area, I had never seen so many boats in Biloxi Bay.  It was reminiscent of the annual Blessing of the Fleet, but without the colorful flags and pageantry.  This looked more like a naval flotilla heading to war.

These shrimp boats and their crews were likely heading out to the Mississippi Sound as part of BP's Vessels of Opportunity program.  From the San Angelo (TX) Standard-Times
To date, more than 2,300 vessels have been hired as part of the Vessels of Opportunity program, and are working aggressively in multiple shifts across the Gulf to perform a variety of important tasks, including deploying and monitoring containment boom, transporting equipment and personnel and surface and subsurface surveillance (looking for oil).

The VOO program hires vessels of all sizes—with a priority placed on commercial vessels that make their living on the sea—to perform critical response tasks to mitigate the oil’s impact on our vital shorelines. Compensation depends on the size of the vessel and ranges from $1,200-$3,000 per day. Crew members are paid $200 per eight-hour shift.

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