Giant box to be dropped over leaking oil in Gulf

PORT FOURCHON, La. —A 12-man crew was making final preparations Wednesday to take a 100-ton contraption 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in an unprecedented attempt to help funnel out oil spewing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

The giant concrete-and-steel box is the best short-term solution to bottling up the oil spill that threatens sea life and livelihoods along the Gulf Coast.

BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said it would take about two days to put it precisely on the seafloor.

"This hasn't been done before, it's very complex and it will likely have challenges along the way," Suttles said.

The pipes and tubing were to be hooked to a ship over the weekend, and if successful, the oil would eventually be brought to shore. The boat, a 280-foot vessel named the Joe Griffin, was expected to start its 100-mile trip around the Mississippi Delta later Wednesday.

The box is the latest idea engineers from oil giant BP are trying after an oil rig the company was operating exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. It sank two days later.

Capt. Demi Shaffer said the trip would take 10 to 11 hours at a speed of 11 knots, or about 13 miles per hour.

Shaffer, who lives in Seward, Alaska, said the ship would wait at the Deepwater Horizon site for the arrival of another vessel with cranes that will lift the containment device and lower it 5,000 feet to the seabed.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry cautioned about high expectations for the containment system.

"So, please, I have to manage your expectations and just understand that our job is not done until this well is sealed, until this well is cemented, our job is not done till then," she said.

She also said fires had been lit where the oil is heaviest, near the area of the accident.

BP capped one of three leaks at the well Tuesday night, a step that will not cut the flow of oil but that BP has said will make it easier to help with the gusher.

Two satellite images taken Wednesday morning indicate oil has reached the Mississippi Delta and the Chandeleur Islands off the coast of Louisiana.