Blessing of the Fleet:
Oil spill anxiety accompanies annual ritual
By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / June 2, 2010
GULFPORT, Mississippi -- The uncertainty of the huge BP oil spill out offshore from Biloxi, Mississippi, has not stopped this old world fishing community from holding its annual "Blessing of the Fleet" this coming weekend as it has every year since 1929. But it will not be quite the same. This year there is a palpable anxiety from the threat of the looming offshore disaster which will quietly mix in with the Cajun music, boiled shrimp, and deep fried mullet better known as "Biloxi bacon."
The festival really gets rolling on a Saturday after Catholic masses for fishermen lost at sea and other recognitions starting on Thursday. But on Saturday the town turns out for a rollicking all day Cajun fais do do street party with lots of delicious seafood and culminates that evening with the coronation of the Shrimp Queen and King on the Biloxi Town Green. The blessing of the fleet takes place early afternoon on Sunday.
Eighty one years ago the fishing boats all rafted up side by side, with the priest climbing from boat to boat to sprinkle holy water and offer blessings for protection from the sea and bountiful catches. More recent blessings of the fleet have taken place with a special dockside altar for the priest who blesses a long and colorfully decorated parade of boats both large and small as they motor past.
This year, the devoutly Catholic ritual of blessing and protecting the fishing fleet and its largely immigrant boat owners and seafood workers should include a new definition of "BP" which now would now seem to mean, "Better Pray."
For almost a month and a half, all of the oil exploration industry's best efforts to staunch a high pressure gusher of thick oil and methane gas from a well blowout 5,000 feet beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico have come to naught. Oil giant BP's efforts to crank up their public relations machinery to a loud and preposterous level has served only to offer false hope to an anxiously watching world.
Quickly stopping this disaster seems akin to stopping an erupting volcano. The maelstrom beneath the earth's mantel, especially on the barely understood deep sea floor invites disaster if provoked. The rage of unstoppable oil seems to prove the point.
Yet, like wind-up talking toys, well groomed and slickly rehearsed BP top dogs continue to tell all who will listen that none of this is as bad as it seems and that great progress is being made in rounding up the miles of floating oil by either burning it or "collecting" it.
Their promises to clean up every drop of oily sludge that has filled sensitive Louisiana marshes and estuaries have not produced any sort of energetic or effective results. Undeterred, BP spews forth statistics and more promises while being careful to first run everything by their lawyers.
BP spokespersons tell one particular story at every possible opportunity as if all listeners were third graders. With confident, and concerned expressions they tell the tale of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic oil dispersant, "like dish washing liquid" that are breaking the oil up into teensie little droplets so that starving bacterial can ravenously eat up all the oil. The BP bacterial buffet is really a wonderful thing, boys and girls!
However, BP denies the recent findings of a half dozen major universities whose marine exploration efforts now suggest that the dispersant being shot directly into the source of the gusher on the sea floor is merely keeping the oil out of sight on the surface. They are finding miles long areas of the broken-up oil hundreds of feet below the ocean's surface, being moved and swept about like huge dark tendrils by currents at the water column at different depths. The new data suggests that bacteria won't make a dent in this movable feast.
Strong currents may move these thick oil ribbons onshore at some point way in the future, or even into the "loop current" in the gulf. This would pull some of the tens of millions of gallons of oil between the tip of Florida and Cuba, and then on up the Atlantic coast.
Oil company big shots don't like to be ordered around. After eight years of basically no meaningful regulation by the Bush-Cheney Minerals Management staff, and having helped formulate Cheney's secret energy policy, BP and all the other big oil companies have learned that it is easy to outwit and out-wait the bureaucrats and that it is also much better for the bottom line. A steady flow of campaign money to state and national politicians also greases things nicely.
Smellier and dirtier than the oil slicks are the shameless political attacks from the nay-saying, do-nothing Republicans intent upon tearing down President Obama. Their first order of business is to blame it all on Obama. And the crass move is playing well because people want something done, anything, and aren't capable of grasping the fact that this disaster may be uncontrollable by Obama, or any other mortal. Again, clear and honest explanations of the difficulty of stopping the oil flow, and the reasons why don't satisfy three-year-olds.
BP was not required to undertake a detailed worst-case scenario environmental study because of their cozy relationship with Bush-Cheney era Mineral Management employees. Angry Americans should be screaming loudly at the drill baby drill Republicans still in office who, in effect, were in lock step with the Bush no regulation approach to environmental protection.
Meanwhile, the Priest and Catholic Bishop on hand this coming weekend better have plenty of holy water for this year's blessing of the fleet, which includes many boats that have just rejoined the fleet after being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
This year's hurricane season starts just a few days before BP... Biloxi's Prayers.
[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]
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