Alaskan Oil Spill Prompts Shipping Safety Partnership

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Responding to the worst oil spill in Alaska waters since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster — the December grounding of the Selendang Ayu in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands — a coalition of business and conservation interests today announced the formation of a Shipping Safety Partnership (SSP) proposing nine measures to prevent similar tragedies in the future

The SSP’s main goal is to reduce the risk of groundings, collisions and spills from the several thousand merchant vessels each year that trade between ports on the west coast of North America and Asia, transiting the environmentally sensitive waters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

The SSP is in discussions with Alaska and federal officials to explore further actions that need to be taken to prevent future maritime disasters, and a nongovernmental organization incident investigation is underway. The SSP also is urging Congress to hold hearings on the issue.

“Unalaska is home to the nation’s largest commercial fishing port by volume, and the second-largest by value of annual catch,” said Henry Mitchell, executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, a SSP member.

“The spill caused Alaska Department of Fish and Game to close the Makushin/Skan Bay area to all commercial fishing, including Tanner crab, Pacific cod, black rockfish and other groundfish, depriving small-boat fishermen of an important source of income at this time of year.”

Six Selendang Ayu crew members died and government agencies now estimate that 321,047 gallons out of the 424,000 gallons of intermediate-grade fuel oil and 18,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board leaked into one of the world’s most remote and ecologically rich wildlife refuges.

“Anytime you spill a thousand tons of a toxic, persistent chemical into a biologically productive marine ecosystem, the damage will be serious,” said Prof. Richard Steiner, a SSP member and conservation biology professor at the University of Alaska who helped organize the emergency response when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989. “And above all, this damage is entirely unnecessary and unacceptable.”

“Congress should investigate the Selendang Ayu oil spill in the Alaska Maritime Refuge before it revisits drilling in the equally environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Mark J. Spalding, J.D., MPIA, senior Program officer for the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Alaska Oceans Program (www.alaskaoceans.org), a SSP member.

Other SSP members include: the Alaska Center for the Environment; Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility; Alaska Marine Conservation Council; Cook Inlet Keeper; Northwest Urban Indian Community; The Ocean Conservancy; Jim Ayers, director of Oceana Pacific Region; Pacific Environment; Unalaska Native Fisherman Association; World Wildlife Fund; TDX Corporation; and several scientists.

Source: US Newswire