The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Delaware River Protection Act of 2005, which was introduced earlier this year by Congressman Lobiondo (New Jersey) as a result of the Athos I oil spill in the Delaware River in November 2004. The bill contains the following four main elements:
1. Anyone who knows about the release from a vessel or facility into the navigable waters of the U.S. of any object that creates an obstruction to navigation shall notify the federal authorities.
2. Tank vessel limits of liability would be raised from the existing USD 1200 per gross ton to the following:
Single hull tank vessel (including fitted with double side or double bottom only):
- USD 1550 in 2005
- USD 1900 in 2006
- USD 2250 in 2007 and after
Double hull tank vessel:
- USD 1350 in 2005
- USD 1500 in 2006
- USD 1700 in 2007 and after.
Additionally, within 3 years after enactment of this law and every three years thereafter, the federal government shall adjust these limits to reflect the consumer price index (CPI).
3. The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shall establish a programme to detect, monitor, and evaluate the effects of submerged oil.
4. The U.S. Coast Guard shall establish a Delaware River and Bay Oil Spill Advisory Committee
to provide recommendations on methods to improve the prevention of and response to future oil spills in the Delaware River and Bay.
These provisions are considered to be a reasoned and reasonable Congressional response to the Athos I oil spill.
With regard to the increase in the limits of liability, it must be recognised that OPA 90 established the initial USD 1200 per ton limit in 1990 and gave the U.S. Coast Guard the authority to raise this limit based upon the CPI. Over the past 15 years the Coast Guard has not raised this limit, so these increases are viewed as raising the limits of liability in line with the CPI over the past 15 years.
This bill must now be considered by the U.S. Senate before it can become law.