The effort to clean up the Gulf has been plagued by a multitude of leadership failures over the 73 days of the crisis, but this week it seemed as though a glimmer of hope had arrived. The Obama administration claimed that it would start accepting help from foreign countries, and BP pledged to get more boats to the Gulf to remove crude oil as fast as possible. The AP reports that those efforts may be a sham — a make-work effort intended to drive numbers but keep boats beached:
BP and the Obama administration face mounting complaints that they are ignoring foreign offers of equipment and making little use of the fishing boats and volunteers available to help clean up what may now be the biggest spill ever in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Coast Guard said there have been 107 offers of help from 44 nations, ranging from technical advice to skimmer boats and booms. But many of those offers are weeks old, and only a small number have been accepted, with the vast majority still under review, according to a list kept by the State Department.
And in recent days and weeks, for reasons BP has never explained, many fishing boats hired for the cleanup have done a lot of waiting around.
Waiting around? Isn’t there plenty of work to be done? One might think so, but boat captains are complaining that the situation has no leadership. BP has told them to remain at the dock while paying them a substantial flat-rate fee:
Rocky Ditcharo, a shrimp dock owner in Buras, La., said many fishermen hired by BP have told him that they often park their boats on the shore while they wait for word on where to go.
“They just wait because there’s no direction,” Ditcharo said. He said he believes BP has hired many boat captains “to show numbers.”
“But they’re really not doing anything,” he added. He also said he suspects the company is hiring out-of-work fishermen to placate them with paychecks.
Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish and now a nationally-known figure in Louisiana politics, says that the federal government promised him that 140 skimmers would patrol the waters — and gave him a map of their precise locations. When he took a helicopter ride to check it out for himself, he only found 31 on the job. Nor are boat captains the only volunteers getting beached by the effort. Over 20,000 people have offered assistance in on-shore cleanup efforts in the region, but only a sixth of those have been put to work.
The cleanup effort has run aground, and it’s a failure of leadership. Small wonder House Democrats blocked its members from traveling to the Gulf to see the situation for themselves and the White House is blocking media access.