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As BP oil spill spreads, 1,500 fishing boats to aid relief

The Coast Guard's Adm. Thad Allen told reporters the BP oil spill has broken into many smaller patches of oil across the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the man in charge of the BP oil spill federal relief effort, speaks to reporters about the scope of the spill Monday at the White House.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has now broken into thousands of minispills – patches of oil drifting in different directions across a vast area of ocean that stretches from Louisiana across to the Florida panhandle, and south as far as Tampa.

That means the fight to contain the spill has moved into a new phase in which the deployment of many small vessels with containment equipment has become much more important, said the Coast Guard commander in charge of the federal cleanup effort at a White House briefing on Monday.

“We’re adapting to an enemy that changes,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. “The nature of this oil spill has changed from Day 1.”

IN PICTURES: Sticky mess: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature


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