US bill would extend double hulls to nontank vessels

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 25 -- Marking the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez crude oil spill on Mar. 24, US Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced a bill that would require the use of double hulls in nontank vessels.

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

The 1990 Oil Pollution Act requires tankers operating in US waters to have double hulls. Congress passed it a year after the single-hulled Exxon Corp. tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef off Alaska, spilling 270,000 bbl of crude into Prince William Sound.

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

"The last thing we need is another Exxon Valdez," he said. "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.

Lautenberg's bill, which was cosponsored 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 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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