Published: May 16, 2010 8:56 PM EDT

HAMMOND, La. (AP) - In a major step toward containing a massive Gulf of Mexico oil leak, BP said a mile-long tube was funneling crude Sunday from a blown well to a tanker ship after three days of wrestling to get the stopgap measure into place on the seafloor.

The contraption was hooked up successfully and sucking oil from a pipe at the blown well Sunday afternoon after being hindered by several setbacks. Engineers remotely guiding robot submersibles had worked since Friday to place the tube into a 21-inch pipe nearly a mile below the sea.

Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president for exploration and production, said during a news conference that the amount being drawn was gradually increasing, and it would take several days to measure it. Company spokesman Mark Proegler at the joint spill command center in Louisiana had initially said the tube was containing most of the oil coming from the pipe, which is contributing an estimated 85 percent of the crude in the spill.

Previous attempts to use emergency valves and a 100-ton container had failed to stop the leak that has spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, threatening sea life, commercial fishing and the coastal tourist industry from Louisiana to Florida.

BP PLC has also been burning small amounts of floating oil and spraying chemical dispersants above and below the surface. The tube's success gave crews partial control of the leak for the first time in more than three weeks.