ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) — It’s never been tried before, but crews were hoping to lower a 100-ton concrete-and-steel box a mile under the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, May 6 to cut off most of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spewing from a blown-out well.

The containment box has a dome-like structure at the top that’s designed to act like a funnel and siphon the oil up through 5,000 feet of pipe and onto a tanker at the surface.
If it works, the system could collect as much as 85 percent of the oil that’s been leaking from the ocean floor after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

“We’re even more anxious,” the Joe Griffin’s first mate, Douglas Peake, told The Associated Press aboard the boat. The AP is the only news organization with access to the containment effort. “Hopefully, it will work better than they expect.”

It won’t solve the problem altogether. Crews are drilling a relief well to take the pressure off the blown-out well at the site, and that could take up to three months. Other possible solutions are also in the works.

More than 200,000 gallons of oil a day is pouring from the well, creating a massive sheen that’s been floating on the Gulf for more than two weeks. As it moved closer to land, crews were frantically laying boom and taking other steps to prevent it from oozing into delicate coastal wetlands.

At sea, some boats were using skimmers to suck up oil, while others were corralling and setting fire to it to burn it off the surface.

The Joe Griffin, the ship carrying the containment box that will be lowered to the seafloor, arrived Thursday morning at the leak site about 50 miles offshore.

Workers hoped to have the device down at the seabed by Thursday evening, but it will likely be Sunday, May 9 or Monday, May 10 before it’s fully operational and they know if it’s working.

The crew won’t have to worry about dealing with the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon, which sank two days after the explosion. It’s not anywhere near where they’re working.

The waters were calm Thursday with some clouds in the sky, though visibility was good. Roughly a dozen other ships either surrounded the site or could be seen in the distance.

Thick, tar-like oil with a pungent scent surrounded the boat as far as the eye could see.