Feb 1, 2013 5:02 PM by AP
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Operations continued Friday to remove thousands of gallons of oil from a leaking barge on the Mississippi River, and vessel traffic remained restricted, a Coast Guard officer said.
Lt. Aaron Jozsef said Friday that crews had removed more than 250,000 gallons of a mixture of oil and water from the barge. The barge began leaking after crashing into a railroad bridge Sunday near Vicksburg.
The damaged barge is pushed against the bank on the Louisiana side of the river, directly across from Vicksburg's Riverwalk and Lady Luck casinos.
The oil is being pumped off the damaged barge and onto another barge, a process known as lightering. It's not clear how long the process will take.
Once the oil is removed, the Coast Guard will check the structural soundness of the barge before moving it.
"We're taking it slow, one step at a time, being methodical," Jozsef said.
Jozsef said some restrictions will remain in place until the oil is removed from the empty barge and salvage operations are completed.
Vessel traffic is being restricted on a 16-mile stretch of the river. Southbound commercial traffic was being allowed to pass through the area during daylight hours, and northbound commercial traffic will be permitted to move at night.
Two barges hit the bridge before dawn on Sunday, but only one was leaking. It had eight compartments carrying a total of 668,000 gallons of oil. One of those compartments was punctured, and it had about 86,000 gallons of light crude oil in it.
Jozsef said Coast Guard officials continue to estimate that about 7,000 gallons of oil are unaccounted for, but some of it may have seeped into void spaces on the barge rather than into the river.
The oil was being contained with boom, and skimmers were sucking up the crude, Jozsef said.