©AP Photo/Gregory Bull--Tins of Spam awaiting transport to the cruise ship Carnival Splendor Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, in San Diego.

AP Senior Managing Editor circulated an “Attaboy!” letter to his staff yesterday, praising staff photographer Gregory Bull of San Diego for his “ingenuity and persistence” covering the Carnival Splendor cruise ship rescue story.

Because of Bull’s efforts, AP managed to scoop competitors with both still photos and video. Bull received AP’s $500 “Beat of the Week” prize, an incentive for AP staffers to out-hustle the competition.

Carnival Splendor was disabled off the coast of California last week by an engine fire. Bull heard that the US Navy was airlifting emergency food supplies–including canned Spam–to the ship’s 4,500 passengers and crew. He drove to the Navy base, talked his way aboard one of the helicopters, and shot stills and video of aid being delivered to the stricken ship.

But filing the images proved difficult because the Navy’s e-mail system allowed Bull to transmit only 5 megabytes of data at a time, Oreskes said in his memo. Bull tried to transmit via satellite phone from the deck of a Navy ship. But he kept losing the connection because the ship was rolling too much to get a fix on a satellite.

So Bull went back to using e-mail, and finally managed to transmit 15 images after eight hours. AP managed to post images of the airlift online 20 minutes ahead of ZUMA Press and the Los Angeles Times, Oreskes said.

To transmit video, Bull broke his take into 10 separate clips that were 9 seconds each, and e-mailed them one at a time. “A CNN crew watched helplessly next to Bull as they were unable to get any of their own video out,” Oreskes told the AP staff.  Four of Bull’s video clips made it through, enough for AP to distribute a video package by the next morning.

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