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Oil threatens Gulf businesses

With the Gulf oil slick spreading, these 5 business owners are among the thousands fearing for their livelihood.

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Defending a national treasure
Defending a national treasure

Captain Louis Skrmetta
President and captain, Ship Island Excursions
Gulfport, Miss.

Just 11 miles off the Mississippi coast, Ship Island is home to some of the most beautiful waters and beaches in the state. Ship Island Excursions has been transporting visitors there since 1926: The family-owned and operated company shuttles more than 30,000 people each year to the island. Captain Louis Skrmetta, the company's president, says that that the oil spill has the potential to both destroy a natural treasure and shut down his business.

"Our summer season starts May 15, and we're coming into our busiest time of the year," he says. "Right now, we're just in a wait-and-see mode. No one really knows what to expect."

While there aren't yet any signs of oil on the island, Skrmetta knows it's only a matter of time before the slick reaches the shores. The National Park Service has the authority to shut down the island. Once it does, Skrmetta will be out of business. Around 70 school groups have already cancelled trips, and passenger numbers are starting to decline as the oil creeps closer.

"This could bankrupt us. If we're not [traveling] to the island, we're not making money," Skrmetta says. The company, which has $3 million tied up in its boats and equipment, has spent the past week packing up its concession area on the south side of the island in preparation for a potential shutdown.

Like many businesses on the coast, Ship Island Excursions is still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, the company transported 70,000 passengers to the island every year. Skrmetta was expecting this summer to be his post-Katrina record for traffic. That's now unlikely.

"It's just hard for us to gauge the impact at this point, in terms of all the publicity," Skrmetta says. "Even if it does miss the island, will we get the same amount of reporting that things weren't affected?"

By Craig Guillot, contributing writer

NEXT: 'It's the fear of the unknown'
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LAST UPDATE: May 12 2010 | 11:22 AM ET
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