Regulatory Climate for Emergency Response

Wednesday, February 09, 2005
By Richard Fairbanks, President American Salvage Association

The holidays this past year presented unique challenges for the salvage industry in the U.S. On Friday Evening, November 26 (Thanksgiving Weekend) the fully laden 60,000 dwt tanker Athos 1 struck an object on the bottom of the Delaware River causing a sizable crude oil spill and a serious list on-board the vessel. A few days later, on December 8, the fully laden 70,000-ton bulk carrier Selendang Ayu lost power off Dutch Harbor, Alaska. It grounded and broke into two pieces spilling both cargo and bunkers into the sea. As the Athos 1 is a tanker, it had a USCG approved Vessel Response Plan (VRP) which was activated immediately. The "Qualified Individual" (required to be named in her VRP by the USCG) activated her Spill Management Team within minutes. The Qualified Individual activated the Salvors named in the VRP on request by the USCG. Salvage advice was then immediately available to the master and QI by telephone. Salvage advice was available on site within 3 hours of request. As the sun rose on Saturday November 27, less than 24 hours after the incident, both the spill and salvage response were in full mobilization.

The Selendang Ayu was a bulk carrier, not a tanker. It was therefore not bound by the VRP requirements of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and not required to have a USCG approved Vessel Response Plan despite her bunker capacity being in excess of 2500 cubic meters. It would not be fair or accurate to say that the lack of a VRP caused her grounding or destruction but the fact is that a salvage contractor was not appointed until December 15, approximately a week after the casualty. This took much too long. The USCG Authorization Act of 2004, recently passed by Congress has a provision which should improve this situation. It basically extends the Vessel Response Plan requirements to all self-propelled vessels over 400 grt. The regulations implementing this law have not been published as yet but the USCG finally has the legal ability to publish regulations and fix the problem. This can only be a good thing for the environment and the maritime emergency response industry. The pending (since 2002) USCG Salvage Regulations are still pending, maybe for years to come but there seems to be renewed hope. With VRP's now being required of non tank vessels the primary objection of the tanker industry to the salvage regulations has been removed. Equality and fairness have been restored! Maybe we will now see the Salvage Regulations finalized. Both the USCG and the American Salvage Association have been revisiting Area Contingency Plans this past year. Remember them?

They were created to provide guidance for responding to maritime emergencies, primarily pollution emergencies, in each COTP zone. They are not so easy to look at now with the fear of terrorism causing open access to be questionable but those that we have seen are still incomplete. They all neglect salvage response. The ACP's have Salvage Sections but those Sections are largely misleading, out of date and for the most part, empty. Some have Sections on Marine Fire Response, most have amazing detail on booming strategy to protect sensitive resources but very little guidance or help in confining oil in the casualty or providing strategies to remove casualties from our waterways and ports. The USCG now seems to have renewed interest in filling this gap. They are working hard to provide Salvage advise for each COTP zone for inclusion in their Area Contingency Plans. The regulatory environment seems to have changed over the past six months. We are encouraged by the interest in Marine Emergency Response and we seem to feel a breeze of fresh air coming from the right direction. Perhaps progress will be made in 2005.

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