How can a Taiwanese man, a self made shipping magnate, become one of the heroes in an unbelievable environemental crisis an ocean away? He comes up with an idea that can defend the environmental health of a nation and help a major company right a wrong. Nobu Su said he had a “light bulb moment” when he decided to send his mammoth of a ship to be overhauled to become the largest oil skimmer in the world.
While watching the Gulf oil spill event unfold on TV he thought to himself that ”A large-scale disaster needs a large-scale solution.” The ship, named “A Whale” was originally a conventional oil tanker but Su had it refurbished into an oil skimmer in Portugal after the oil spill occurred in the Gulf. After the multi-million pound redesign was complete the vessel made its way across the Atlantic to Norfolk, Virginia and then on to the Louisiana Gulf area. The trip was made without an official confirmation that the ship would even be allowed to help in the clean up effort.
Nobu Su, the CEO and Founder of TMT Group, a Taiwanese shipping company said the vessel would work by rolling across the Gulf sucking up oil and water “like a lawn mower cutting grass.” The basic mechanics of the ship is that it will move along pulling up only water and oil through its 12 vented jaws on each side of the ship. The water will then be separated from the oil by machines on the ship. The oil will be contained on board and the water returned to the Gulf. The oil will be routinely moved to another tanker to allow the skimmer to continue working to clear more water.
Ed Overton, an environmental sciences professor at Louisiana State University stated after seeing A Whale for the first time: “It is absolutely gigantic. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know whether it is going to work or not, but it certainly needs to be given the opportunity.”
A Whale is 1,100 feet long and equals the height of a 10 story building. There is a 35 member crew, and all are from India and are excited about the opportunity to be involved in the project of re-purposing the ship. The skimmer is estimated to be able to take in as much as 12.6 million gallons or 300,000 barrels of oil every 10 hours. This will be a 125 fold increase over the ability of the next largest skimmer boat working in the Gulf. The ship is currently trying to prove its worth as it is being tested and observed by those that will decide if it can stay and be a part of the clean up efforts. Another important feature of the ship is that it can ride out harsh winds and waves, a big plus now that hurricane season has started.
The new outfitting of A Whale was very costly. It is not yet been determined what the compensation costs would be should it’s capabilities be proven and BP hires it to assist in clean up. The possible outcome of more of the environment defended from the effects of the oil spill is priceless to the US no matter the cost of the overhaul or the cost to BP. For BP the vessel will hasten clean up efforts and lessen environmental damage of the spill, saving billions in cleanup cost and damage claims, so compensation costs would be well worth it. Mr. Su may end up one of the heroes in this crisis and he may have made the business decision of his life when he had his light bulb moment.