A collision between a barge and tanker spilled more than 419,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Mississippi River, closing a stretch of the waterway. This is the largest oil spill on the river since 2000. As a result, several petrochemical tankers, cargo ships and smaller vessels have been rendered immobile and piled up on Thursday near this stretch at the nation's busy shipping waterway. Several ships waited at the river's Gulf of Mexico outlet to head upriver to grain and petrochemical terminals above New Orleans. 38 southbound vessels and 21 northbound vessels had been halted, and more are expected to pile up. A spokesman from the Port of New Orleans has said taht the port stands to lose about US$100,000 in fee revenues each day the river stretch remains closed.
Only about 6,900 gallons of oil had been cleaned from the fast-flowing river by midday Thursday. Efforts to clean up the oil residue could take weeks, and as per an estimate by the Coast Guard, the reopening of almost 100 miles of the river to ship traffic could take days. How and to what extent is the ship stoppage expected to impact the flow of refined products from the 10 petroleum plants that line the river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La. is unclear.
About 15% of USA's oil imports come through the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port along the coast - the only US port capable of handling the larger oil tankers. The complex is linked by pipeline to refineries. Interestingly, crude oil imports seem unaffected.