There has been a number of reports asking why supertankers haven't been called in to assist with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. For example from the Science Christian Monitor Jones Act: Does Gulf oil spill cleanup need more foreign boats?
What Mr. Obama hasn't done is announce that he's calling in maritime mercenaries – foreign skimmers or Saudi supertankers – to help deal with the Gulf oil spill cleanup.Supposedly this was done in an unreported 700 million gallon in the Persian Gulf. Here is a story at Esquire -The Secret, 700-Million-Gallon Oil Fix That Worked — and Might Save the Gulf
The article is short on details as to exactly how a supertanker would be used, this was the key detail:
having empty ships park near the Saudi spill and pull the oil off the water.
The problem is a typical oil tanker can not "pull the oil off the water" without some sort of modification and this is not explained in the article.
The Oil Drum has a post regarding this claim of the unreported oil spill in the PG here - Crude Confessions: Massive Saudi Oil Spill in 1993?
A supertanker can move large quantities of oil but from what I have seen (Oil Spill raw video from the Times-Picayune) that is not the nature of the problem.
Here is an interesting article and video from CBS which illustrates the nature of the problem: Skimmers Move at Slow Pace Taking Oil from Gulf From the text:
"The biggest challenge, really, is finding and locating these ribbons of oil," said Swanson. "They're very difficult to see."
And they're almost as tough to catch, made up of thousands of hamburger-sized pieces and moving with the current.
It is slow work, moving at about 2 miles per hour. Any faster and the oil sloshes over the boom.
Once a line of boom is full of oil, Coast Guard sailors turn on the pump moving it through a hose, onto the ship and into holding tanks.
Swanson's ship collected nearly 12,000 gallons of oil in three days, a small dent in a massive spill.
If the video is typical, the problem is finding, containing and recovering the oil. In this case I can't see where a supertanker would be of much use. For that matter I wonder if BP bought Kevin Costner's machines just to shut him up?
From: Cleanup technology not apace with spills
"I'm not saying there aren't ways to improve or tweak the system," Nancy Kinner, co-director of the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the Times. "But you're not going to change the laws of physics."
A supertanker is the largest vessel ever built by man but the reality of the situation is that there is a lot of oil in the Gulf and once the wind and current get it a lot of it is coming ashore, no matter what we do.
UPDATE: This might be interesting. A supertanker with slots cut in the bow for skimming Huge oil-skimming ship makes Virginia stop en route to Gulf of Mexico
UPDATE 2 - I have edited this post for clarity.