The Obama Administration has come under heavy criticism for potentially delaying clean up operations of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by not issuing a blanket waiver to the protectionist Jones Act which would have allowed foreign companies, possessing some of the world’s most advanced oil skimming ships, to assist.
Other presidents have waived the act under similar circumstances (e.g. Bush following Hurricane Katrina) so there is some confusion as to why Obama has not followed suit.
The Coast Guard and the Administration are quick to point out that some foreign technology is being used in the current cleanup effort; however, the reality is that this is largely technology transferred to US vessels.
A US-based company is now cleaning oil off surface water in the Gulf of Mexico using rigid sweeping arms provided by Dutch company, Royal Boskalis and the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. Instead of using the Dutch ships and crews immediately, when help was offered back in April, the operation was delayed until U.S. crews could be trained.
Similarly, according to Belgian dredging giant Jan de Nul, an offer to send its fallpipe vessel Simon Stevin to the Gulf of Mexico was turned down because of the protectionist US law. The 36,000 dwt Simon Stevin is equipped with a 2,000 m fallpipe, which is much broader that the funnel BP is currently using and could have been used to suck up oil from the broken riser.
The Dutch also offered assistance with building sand berms (barriers) along the coast of Louisiana back in April, but that offer was also rejected. Finally, it appears the President may be softening with the announcement of the contract award to Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. to deliver sand for berms to protect the Louisiana coast from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. However, Boskalis will be using the trailing suction hopper dredger Stuyvesant, which already sails under the American flag.
After opening new offshore areas for exploratory drilling earlier this year and then retracting this in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident, perhaps the President doesn’t wish to appear to be backtracking again after firmly voicing his support over the reauthorisation of the Jones Act.
President Obama has made it clear that he intends to hold BP accountable for the incident (Note: for those people translating this into anti-British sentiment, BP shares are actually 40% British owned and 39% US owned, so it’s nearly as American as it is British). However, he will need to remember that he will also be held accountable for what he did and didn’t do in the wake of this tragedy. Pride comes before a fall as they say.