On August 4, 1999, U.S. Coast Guard Manne Safety Office (MSO) New Orleans pollution investigators responded to a chronic sheen appearing adjacent to the Riverwalk, New Orleans' popular riverfront shopping and tourist destination. The oil eventually was identified surfacing near the middle of the Mississippi River. A bottom survey conducted by the MSO and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) utilizing side-scanning sonar, magnetometers, and fathometers identified a large anomaly that was later determined to be the Taiwanese-flagged freighter Union Faith,. On April 6, 1969, this vessel had been involved in a tragic collision and subsequently sank with an estimated 6,000 barrels of bunker fuel onboard.
Removing heavy oil from a badly deteriorated wreck with zero visibility and dangerous currents proved an enormous challenge. Repeated attempts to locate the source of oil within the ship's maze of holds were unsuccessful and internal recovery efforts proved extremely problematic. External hull operations were determined to be the most effective way to remove the oil. This strategy entailed charting the boundaries of the trapped oil and then cold tapping through the hull at strategic locations. A specially designed drilling and pumping apparatus was then subsequently placed at these cold tapped areas. Also, three internal tanks were accessed externally and emptied of their contents.
Other obstacles to overcome were staging a diving support platform in the middle of a congested waterway serving one of the busiest ports in the world, sensitivity to a ship designated as a “watery grave” for 26 deceased mariners, and managing a high level of publicity/scrutiny surrounding an effort of this scale underway directly in front of a major tourist attraction, cruise ship moorings, ferryboat landings, and a local TV station's corporate office.