GULF SHORES, Ala. — The immense difficulties facing workers trying to contain and clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil leak were made frighteningly evident Wednesday, after a charter captain despondent over the spill apparently committed suicide, and technical issues forced BP to remove the cap collecting some of the oil, sending thousands more barrels of crude gushing into the gulf.
By evening, the cap appeared to be back on, nestled in place on the eighth try after about 90 minutes of effort. Live video showed remote-controlled submersibles frequently moving hoses out of the way so that the cap could be lowered over the spewing oil.
John Curry, a BP spokesman, said funneling of oil and gas through a pipe to the drill ship Discoverer Enterprise would begin shortly after the cap was properly positioned and would return to full capacity "as conditions permit."
Meanwhile, the apparent suicide of fishing captain, William Allen "Rookie" Kruse, 55, was a grim reminder of the mental health toll that may haunt the Gulf Coast for years as industries are damaged and estuaries despoiled.
"How can you deal with watching the oil kill every damn thing you ever lived for in your whole life?" said Ty Fleming, a land-bound charter captain who spoke Wednesday at the Undertow bar in Orange Beach, Ala.
Far out to sea at the site of the oil leak, the containment cap was lifted Wednesday morning after a robotic submarine bumped into it and closed an oil vent, raising fears that slushy "hydrates" might form, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Thad Allen said.
Allen, the federal government's point man for the response, said Wednesday that rough seas from tropical weather systems might force workers to disengage for a number of days.
A more hurricane-resistant system is in the process of being built. In the meantime, Allen said, the Discoverer Horizon ship would need "six or seven days' notice to be able to evacuate."
That threat is ramping up as the heart of hurricane season approaches. AccuWeather.com hurricane expert Joe Bastardi warned Wednesday that a tropical storm could form in the region next week.
On the Alabama coast, friends remembered Kruse. He earned his nickname, "The Rookie," as a deckhand on a fishing boat back in the 1960s. Although he had been a captain of his own boat for a couple decades, his unflagging enthusiasm made the nickname appropriate: a recording at his work phone announced in a bright, drawly voice that "The Rookie's ready to go now! Please leave me a message so we can go catch that big one!"
Charter Capt. Johnny Greene, a longtime friend, said that when he spoke to Kruse, in May, "he was very upbeat … talking about fisheries, hoping BP would get it shut off in the early part of May."
It was not to be. Kruse, like many gulf fisherman, hired on with BP; his 50-foot custom sport boat became part of BP's cleanup and containment flotilla.
To Kruse the deal amounted to being "forced into doing a job that you hate just to stay alive," Fleming said.