FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Stephanie Balian
The National Ocean Service, an agency of the Commerce Department's NOAA and the U. S. Coast Guard received preliminary international approval to expand existing protective measures for the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The measures would move large commercial ships further offshore, reducing the threat of an oil spill to the sanctuary.
The International Maritime Organization, a London-based body that regulates ocean-going shipping, heard the proposal this week to modify the existing "Area-To-Be Avoided." An ATBA is an area that all ships or certain classes of ships should avoid because navigation is particularly hazardous or it is exceptionally important to avoid casualties within the area.
The proposal consists of two parts. First, it increases the size of the ATBA to the north and west of the sanctuary to provide a greater margin of safety around the navigational hazards of Duntze and Duncan rocks and Tatoosh Island. Second, the ATBA would also apply to ships greater than 1600 gross tons, regardless of their cargo, that are transiting the area. These ships carry large amounts of bunker fuel which, if spilled, would be extremely harmful to the unique, valuable and sensitive resources of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
Vessels that are engaged in activities allowed in the sanctuary, such as fishing, would not be affected by the proposed changes. The voluntary nature of the ATBA was also evaluated and will remain in place. Final designation of these protective measures must also be approved and adopted by the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee when it meets in May 2002.
"Since 1995, tank vessels carrying cargoes of petroleum and hazardous materials have been routed outside the ATBA. Although the measure is voluntary, compliance has been high," said Carol Bernthal, superintendent of NOAA's Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. "The marine transportation industry has been very cooperative because they recognize that an oil spill would have a devastating impact on this ecological treasure."
The entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, located within the marine sanctuary, is one of the busiest intersections on the West Coast. The proposal was developed based on existing vessel traffic patterns and oil spill risk studies. Additional input was sought through consultations with the Canadian Government; members of the public including representatives of the shipping industry, master mariners, ports, pilots and environmental interests; and representatives of U.S. federal, state, local and tribal governments.
"While the existing program has proven successful, the future poses a different set of risks and we are pleased that the IMO is addressing them," Bernthal said.
NOAA officials also worked closely with the United States Coast Guard as they developed recommendations for changes to the traffic lanes entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca to improve navigation safety and increase protection for marine resources. This proposal also received preliminary approval from the IMO. The result of these efforts will be a win-win situation for both the marine industry and the environment.
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