Opinion

Industries should help pay for oil-spill prevention | Editorial

The state Legislature has introduced two bills — one sponsored by our state senator, Kevin Ranker; the other co-sponsored by our state representatives, Jeff Morris and Dave Quall — which would require the cargo, cruise and oil industries to pay for a year-round response tug at Neah Bay to prevent oil spills.

The Legislature should make the requirement law.

Since 1999, a rescue tug has prevented 41 potential disasters from occurring in our inland sea or at its entrance at Cape Flattery. Many of them involved ships that lost propulsion. Five incidents occurred in 2008. The latest, on Sept. 17, was covered by a rescue tug only because the state had approved funding to cover the cost year-round; formerly, the annual tug contract ended in March.

There were three other incidents in our waters in 2008. On Feb. 27, the 607-foot cargo ship Star Indiana lost propulsion just north of Neah Bay. On Feb. 7, the 918-foot container ship APL Australia lost steering when a hydraulic steering control unit went out while in the Strait of Juan de Fuca en route to Seattle. On Feb. 5, the 540-foot bulk carrier Global Ace experienced a main engine problem and began drifting west of Port Angeles.

One incident underscores how the unexpected can happen at sea. On Jan. 20, 2008, the 42-foot tug Joe Foss began taking on water and put in at La Push for repairs. On Jan. 23, it ran into further trouble off the Oregon coast and sank in 210 feet with 1,300 gallons of fuel onboard. Fortunately, the crew had been rescued by a nearby fishing vessel. That incident could have happened anywhere, including in our inland waters.

An incident on Dec. 11, 2007 underscores just how precarious the health of our marine environment is. On that date, the 105-foot towing vessel Na Hoku suffered an electrical power generator failure about 13 miles off the Washington coast. Na Hoku was towing the single-hulled tank barge, Noho Hele, laden with 48,000 barrels of diesel oil and 11,000 barrels of gasoline.

“Since 1999, the tug has deployed to stand by or directly assist 41 vessels that were either completely disabled or had reduced maneuvering ability,” according to the state Department of Ecology.

“On eight of these responses, the tug had to take the disabled vessels in tow to prevent them from drifting onto the rocks and spilling oil. The actions taken in those eight cases helped prevent a combined spill potential of nearly 5 million gallons of oil.”

Senate Bill 5344 and House Bill 1409 would require all cargo carriers, oil carriers and large cruise-ship companies to form a cooperative to contract for standby response tug service at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Since 1999, taxpayers have paid for standby response tug service. It’s only fair and responsible that the industries that create the risk to our ecosystem pay the cost of protecting it.

— What’s your view on this issue? Write Editor, The Journal, P.O. Box 519, Friday Harbor 98250. E-mail rwalker@sanjuanjournal.com

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