BREAKING NEWS: Coast Guard Claims That Miles-Long Expanse of Oil on Gulf Surface Is Algae; Boat Captain: “I’ve never seen algae that looked orange, that was sticky, smelled like oil and that stuck to the boat and had to be cleaned off with solvent”

Even though they risk losing their BP contracts and face a federal government apparently determined to paint them as fools, some heroic Gulf boat captains continue to stand by their reports that miles-long slicks of oil are floating toward the Mississippi River delta. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is issuing a denial (imagine that), saying the massive expanse of material “appears to be algae.”

The Times-Picayune out of New Orleans is reporting the Coast Guard’s algae assertion, but also quotes a Gulf boat captain as saying: “I’ve never seen algae that looked orange, that was sticky, smelled like oil and that stuck to the boat and had to be cleaned off with solvent.” The TP said that one captain, who like others wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing BP work, told the paper: “I’ll wait for the lab reports. In fact, we’re also sending some samples off.”

And this from the TP report: “Boat captains had said Friday they had become frustrated by a lack of response from the Coast Guard after a week of reporting the sightings.” This echoes eyewitness reports we’ve been getting for weeks that there’s plenty of oil floating around – to go along with however much sunk to the ocean floor with the dispersants. I’ve found nobody who thinks the Coast Guard is taking these independent oil sightings seriously.

This story remains politically explosive, especially ahead of next Tuesday’s mid-term elections in which the Obama Administration is desperately clinging to control of the House while seeming certain to lose any advantage in the U.S. Senate. These latest “unexpected” oil reports surfaced just three days after the Coast Guard officer in charge of the federal government’s response to the spill, Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, said research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed little recoverable oil remained in the Gulf.

That’s all the Democrats need – yet ANOTHER bogus “Mission Accomplished” moment in the Gulf days before the election.

Unfortunately, election-year politics aside, this latest round of “where’s the oil?” also illustrates several ongoing issues with the BP spill response. First and foremost, once again we see the federal government – not BP – on the offensive to deny the presence of oil, even before testing takes place. And we see that locals reporting oil sightings were “frustrated” that they got no response until the media got the story. Now we get quick denials and conflicting government stories, until somebody circulates the official talking points.

You have to believe that the Coast Guard’s handling of the newspaper’s inquiry speaks volumes about what Billy Nungesser, the high-profile president of Plaquemines Parish, means when he says nobody’s in charge of the response. First, a Coast Guard spokesman on Friday denies that his office has any knowledge of these reports. He says the only report from the area of West Bay was “a 10-by-10 area of foam and oil called into the Houma office by a shrimper.”

Well, that story is not going to fly, because, of course, the boat captains know they’ve reported the oil (repeatedly). So on Saturday, another Coast Guard spokesman admits they’ve actually been investigating the claims since Wednesday. Heaven knows what the next “update” will tell us, but the TP quotes him as reporting that the Coast Guard “…conducted a helicopter overflight of the area Wednesday and the pollution investigator on board concluded the substance was an algae bloom. A Coast Guard boat was dispatched to the area to collect samples, he said, but it had to turn back due to rough seas.”

Right. Why not take the opinion of somebody flying over in a helicopter more seriously than observations of an experienced boat captain who has actually touched the stuff, smelled it and washed it off his boat?

And in an age of newfangled communications like the “internet” and “telephone,” the Coast Guard blamed its contradiction on the fact that the two guys were not in the same building. I’m not kidding – that’s what they said. Then they seem to have gotten a bit snippy, telling the TP: “The Unified Command doesn’t have visibility on each and every pollution report filed in the Gulf of Mexico on each and every activity conducted by each and every sector.”

(BTW: If that’s true, then you really have to wonder about the nation’s battle-ready capabilities.)

Well, somebody is right about that material floating in the Gulf, and apparently, we’ll have dueling lab tests to see what’s what. But we don’t have to wait for those test results to observe that, yet again, the government’s response has been to discount reports from citizens until the media gets involved, then to immediately take the low-ball, downplay side of any issue. And from the reign of retired Adm. Thad Allen, that message has apparently been communicated seamlessly throughout the Coast Guard – even to people who work in different buildings.

Follow the TP reporting here: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/10/coast_guard_says_substance_fou.html

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