Lautenberg's bill would extend double-hulls to non-tank vessels

Marking the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez crude oil spill on Mar. 24, US Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced a bill which would encourage the use of double-hulls in non-tank vessels.

The measure, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Mark Begich (D-Alas.), also would implement a series of National Transportation Safety Board recommendations in response to the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, Lautenberg said.

"The last thing we need is another Exxon Valdez. We must protect New Jersey's and our nation's environment and economy from the threat of a major oil spill. This bill builds on our continued efforts to protect our environment and give coastal communities the confidence they deserve," he said.

Congress passed the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, which requires tankers operating in US waters to have double hulls, a year after the single-hulled Exxon Corp. tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef off Alaska, spilling some 260,000 bbl of crude into Prince William Sound.

Lautenberg said that his bill would extend double hulls from tankers, which haul crude oil and hazardous materials in bulk, to non-tank vessels such as offshore supply boats, passenger ships, fishing boats and containerized cargo vessels. US Coast Guard statistics compiled from 1973 to 2004 show that non-tank vessels now account for the most spills although tank vessels and barges are responsible for most of the oil spilled by volume, he said.

He said that specifically, his bill would require improved fuel tank designs on non-tank vessels, including double-layer protective fuel tank designs; strengthen the Coast Guard's medical review process for licensing pilots and merchant mariners, and direct the Coast Guard to improve its vessel tracking system to prevent navigational errors and accidents.

The 2007 Cosco Busan spill highlighted the need for several of his bill's provisions, according to Lautenberg. More than 58,000 gal of heavy-duty bunker fuel oil spilled from a container ship bound for South Korea, causing several beaches and recreation areas along the bay to be closed, he said.

"Californians know the devastation of oil spills all too well, most recently with the Cosco Busan incident. This bill helps prevent these disasters and protects our waters, our wildlife and our communities," said Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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