Monday, January 11, 2016

Why “Tug Weather" And Tugs?

Jeffrey Foss [Joel Kifer/Marine Traffic]
A reader of the Salish Sea News and Weather news blog this past weekend asked why the news clippings end with report of the “tug weather” forecast for the west end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To explain: The daily “tug weather” report keeps our focus on one of the most vulnerable places in our Sound and Straits where large vessel mishaps would prove disastrous.

WEST ENTRANCE U.S. WATERS STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA-  254 AM PST MON JAN 11 2016    
SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY IN EFFECT THROUGH TUESDAY MORNING    

TODAY  E WIND 15 TO 25 KT...EASING TO 10 TO 20 KT IN THE  AFTERNOON. WIND WAVES 2 TO 4 FT. W SWELL 9 FT AT 20 SECONDS...  BUILDING TO 12 FT AT 18 SECONDS IN THE AFTERNOON. RAIN LIKELY IN THE  MORNING...THEN RAIN IN THE AFTERNOON.  

TONIGHT  E WIND 10 TO 20 KT. WIND WAVES 1 TO 3 FT. W SWELL 14  FT AT 16 SECONDS...SUBSIDING TO 12 FT AT 16 SECONDS AFTER  MIDNIGHT. SHOWERS LIKELY IN THE EVENING...THEN A CHANCE OF RAIN  AFTER MIDNIGHT.

I began including “tug weather” from the mid- to late- ‘90s in the news clips when the citizens’ group People For Puget Sound worked with other environmental groups, elected officials, local governments and treaty tribes to station a rescue tug at Neah Bay to respond to any vessel in distress at the entrance of the Strait and along the coast. What might have seemed to be practical good sense and cheap insurance that would avoid disaster in an area where tug assistance was not readily available for oil tankers and bulk carriers proved to be a 10-plus-year campaign.

Through the efforts of many people we first got a Navy rescue tug temporarily stationed at Neah Bay thanks to the political prowess of Representative Norm Dicks, followed by a rescue tug paid by the state and stationed at Neah Bay during the winter months. But, as activist Doug Scott quipped, “Captain Hazelwood [of the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster] didn’t just drink in the winter,” the goal was to have a rescue tug on duty throughout the year. Today, a rescue tug stands by all year long at Neah Bay and is paid for by the shipping industry.

Worth it? You bet: Last week the tug Jeffrey Foss responded to the bulk carrier MV Gallia Graeca which lost power outbound near the mouth of the Strait and towed the vessel to Victoria [Bulk carrier loses power at entrance to Strait of Juan de Fuca; vessel tugged to Victoria].

Cheap insurance? The SeaDoc Society and Swinomish Tribe have documented the risks posed by plans of six projects to make the Salish Sea a coal- and oil-port Mecca [Energy development impacts for the Salish Sea] and the risks of damage to marine resources should a vessel accident occur in Puget Sound and Georgia Strait transboundary waters. Increased vessel traffic calls not only for continued response tug presence at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca but also increased tug response capabilities, spill response equipment and trained responders, and enhanced US/Canada spill coordination in the Haro and Rosario straits waters.

Most improvements in vessel safety and oil spill response have come after a disaster. Sometimes good sense and cheap insurance comes out of strong leadership before a disaster occurs. With the lifting of the ban on exporting US oil to foreign countries, reporter Bob Simmons provided a heartening reminder of how Washington Senator Warren G. Magnuson kept supertankers out of Puget Sound and limited oil refinery expansion-- before a disaster happened [Taunting Maggie’s Ghost].

It takes engaged citizens, political will and leadership to get oil and coal guys and shippers to step up to their responsibilities to care for the commons they do business in and on. I think about that every morning when I scan and post the day’s “tug weather” forecast. Hope you will, too.

--Mike Sato

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