The Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and Atchafalaya Basinkeeper patrolled the air yesterday to check on the section of the Mississippi River affected by Wednesday's oil spill. What they found was "not encouraging," they report:

Oil continues to leak from the wreckage of the barge and there were extensive oil slicks on the river from the wreckage to the extent of our patrol (near Carlisle).

A pilot we spoke to said that it was like this all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It appears that oil has been continuously leaking from the barge in substantial quantities since the wreck occurred. Disturbingly, there appears to be little effort to contain and collect the leaking oil. While many areas on the river have been boomed off to prevent the oil from getting into things like intakes, diversions and other waterways, there seems to be little real attempt to collect the spilling oil. It appears that the oil is simply being allowed to escape into the Gulf of Mexico.

In response to the ongoing disaster, the groups are calling for systemic changes, including:

* a review of the safety practices for the shipping of dangerous cargo in Louisiana;

* labeling of barges so first responders can tell from a distance what materials they're dealing with;

* a requirement that petroleum products and other hazardous materials be transported in double-hulled containers;

* an additional vessel to accompany hazardous cargo, as with oversized loads on highways; and

* better communication during an incident so local officials can take steps to protect drinking water supplies and evacuate residents if necessary.

The full report with more photos is online here.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, the company that owned the tugboat implicated in this week's accident was involved in another collision on the Mississippi River near New Orleans just 11 days earlier.

On July 12, DRD Towing's Ruby E sank after colliding with the Martin Challenger about four miles upriver from the site of this week's accident. The towing firm also owns the Mel Oliver, which was moving the oil-bearing barge that collided with the Tintomara Wednesday.

In the earlier incident, the tugboat crew was properly licensed. In this week's collision, however, none of the Mel Oliver crew members had the proper credentials to operate on the river.