New Orleans: A tropical storm barrelling towards the Gulf of Mexico has forced the evacuation of ships, personnel and a key drilling rig, prolonging the region`s three-month environmental and economic nightmare.
"Due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site, many of the vessels and rigs will be preparing to move out of harm`s way beginning tonight (Thursday)," US oil spill chief Admiral Thad Allen announced.
"This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment. Some of the vessels may be able to remain on site, but we will err on the side of safety."
Officials have said the evacuation of the drilling rig will lead to a delay of up to 12 days in the final operation to plug BP`s runaway well, but Allen sought to play down those concerns.
"While these actions may delay the effort to kill the well for several days, the safety of the individuals at the well site is our highest concern," he said.
"We are staging our skimming vessels and other assets in a manner that will allow us to promptly re-start oil mitigation efforts as soon as the storm passes and we can ensure the safety of our personnel."
Allen decided the cap holding back the torrent of crude for the past week would stay on, providing some respite for those in the Gulf region struggling to cope with the huge economic impact of the disaster.
There had been fears the cap would have to be opened up or even removed because nobody would be on site to monitor any pressure anomalies in the well or oil seepage on the sea floor.
But Allen said he had ordered BP to make sure their remotely operated vehicles (ROV`s) which do the crucial monitoring for oil leaks and other anomalies are the last to leave when the storm arrives.