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World's Largest Oil Skimmer Ready for Duty in Gulf

The world's largest oil skimmer has docked in Louisiana and is preparing to set sail and suck up much of that errant oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The problem? -- the technology is untested and may no work as planned.

The Taiwanese ship named "A Whale" is massive -- three-and-a-half football fields long and ten stories high.

"It is absolutely gigantic. It's unbelievable," said Ed Overton, an environmental sciences professor at Louisiana State University.

The ship has 12 vents on both sides of its bow, and the hope is that it will suck up as much as 21 million gallons of oil-fouled water every day. From there, it goes into machines that would separate the oil and water. The oil would be offloaded to other tankers, the now-clean water released back into the Gulf.

That is the hope, because the ship is brand new, its technology never tried in the real world. A Whale was originally built as a conventional oil tanker earlier this year in South Korea, but its owner decided to change it into an oil skimmer after the gulf spill.

"A large-scale disaster needs a large-scale solution," said Nobu Su, the CEO of the company that owns the ship.

It was refitted in Portugal before arriving in Louisiana. It could not have come a moment too soon. The waves churned up by Hurricane Alex have forced small skimming boats out of the Gulf.

Since this is all brand new, The Environmental Protection Agency will need to sign off on the quality of the water that's being dumped back into the Gulf.

"I don't know whether it's going to work or not, but it certainly needs to be given the opportunity," Overton said.

The Coast Guard, with approval from the EPA, will have final say on whether the ship is cleared for work in the Gulf.

So far anywhere from 71 million to 139 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20.


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