The Department of Ecology (Ecology) and Crowley Maritime Corp. agreed to continue a contract stationing a company rescue tug at Neah Bay from October 2007 through mid-March 2008.
A rescue tug has been stationed at Neah Bay since spring 1999. The tug has stood by or assisted 33 ships that were disabled or had reduced maneuvering or propulsion capability while transiting along the coast and through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The actions helped ensure the ships didn't drift onto rocks and spill oil.
"The Neah Bay area
is sacred to the Makah Tribe and Washington's coast is a world-class treasure," said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "Having a rescue tug stationed in the area, especially during the stormy winter months, means we can work to prevent catastrophic oil spills, keeping our beaches beautiful and our industries, such as shellfish, fishing and tourism, healthy as well."
"Flanked by the Olympic National Park along the coast and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary where thousands of ships, including oil tankers loaded with more than 40 million gallons of oil, traverse state waters every year," she said. "It is staggering just how much environmental damage a large spill in the region could cause."
Under the extended contract, Crowley Maritime will begin stationing a company rescue tug at Neah Bay starting Oct. 1, 2007, through mid-March, 2008. Lawmakers made about $1.45 million available to fund the tug for 168 days at $8,750 a day.
"We know that having a tug at Neah Bay has and will continue making a difference," said Oil Spill Advisory Council chairman Mike Cooper. "Last year alone, the Crowley tug was deployed four times. Every time a ship is disabled at sea, there is a serious risk of a catastrophic oil spill. Due to this risk, the Council has recommended that a tug be permanently stationed at Neah Bay to provide year round protection."
Gregoire and Cooper noted that U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is working on a measure to have a rescue tug stationed at Neah Bay year
round. The Senator is still working on her proposal.
"It is critical we have a rescue tug stationed at Neah Bay. The area is one of the most environmentally sensitive and valuable areas of Washington," said Dale Jensen, who oversees spill prevention, preparedness and response activities for Ecology. "If oil is spilled, the damage to our environment starts and oil spilled in this area is all but impossible to contain, even during the best weather conditions."
Winter storms present a higher risk of oil spills from the more than 7,000 tankers and cargo ships traveling through the Strait each year. Cargo ships can carry more than 2 million gallons of fuel oil, and oil barges or tankers can carry up to 40 million gallons of oil.