BP engineers prepared to start lowering a 98-ton metal chamber over a ruptured undersea oil well in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday as officials confirmed the first oil landfall from the spill on a Louisiana island beach.

A sheen of oil washed ashore on uninhabited Freemason Island in the Chandeleur chain, a spokeswoman for the U.S. response team said. It was the first confirmed report of oil reaching a U.S. shoreline from this Gulf spill.

The barge carrying the massive white box arrived at the spill site where a BP-owned well blew out two weeks ago 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, causing the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig.


Oil workers, volunteers and the military have battled desperately to shut off the gushing leak and stop the huge spreading oil slick from reaching major ports, tourist beaches, wildlife refuges and fishing grounds on the Gulf Coast.

Once the massive riveted metal dome is lowered to the seabed in an operation that could take two days, it is supposed to capture leaking oil and channel it to a drilling ship on the surface. BP said the dome, the best short-term option for containing the leak, could begin operations by Monday.

But company officials, facing enormous pressure to limit the ecological and economic damage from the accident, cautioned the device had never been used in water nearly 1 mile deep.

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