Locke calls on feds to station rescue tug at Juan de Fuca entrance

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Locke calls on feds to station rescue tug at Juan de Fuca entrance

The Associated Press 09/17/99 4:23 AM Eastern

SEATTLE (AP) -- Gov. Gary Locke is calling on the Clinton administration to station a rescue tug near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca this winter as a precaution against oil spills and other marine accidents.

"This emergency towing capability is vital during the bad weather months while our state works with the Coast Guard to complete a broad public review of marine safety," Locke wrote Thursday to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Commerce Secretary Bill Daley.

Washington's coastal beaches have been soiled twice in the past 11 years. A barge spill off Grays Harbor in December 1988 spread oil as far north as Vancouver Island. The 1991 Tenyu Maru incident, in which a freighter collided with a fishing-boat tender, caused oil to come ashore at Shi Shi Beach on the northwest Washington coastline.

Locke wrote that a rescue tug could be paid for with interest from a $5.2 million fund set up to settle damage caused by the Tenyu Maru spill. The cost of stationing a tug at Neah Bay, at the strait's mouth, has been estimated at $250,000 to $500,000 per month.

Currently, tankers carrying oil are allowed to travel without tug escorts for about 70 miles from the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where it meets the Pacific Ocean, to a point just east of Port Angeles. The tankers are then escorted by two tugs for the remaining voyage to oil refineries at Ferndale and Anacortes.

The U.S. Coast Guard recently created a panel that will spend the next 10 months studying shipping in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and possible safety measures, including tugs.

Locke also raised the possibility of so-called Y2K computer-bug failures aboard foreign ships entering Washington waters. The Y2K fear is that computers will malfunction when the calendar hits 2000 because they were originally programmed to interpret the "00" as 1900.

"I am concerned that electronic systems on foreign-owned vessels are at significant risk for Y2K failure and are beyond federal and state control," Locke wrote. "This potential danger is compounded by the fact that the winter season is the period of greatest risk for vessel casualties due to the Northwest's bad weather, short daylight and notoriously rough seas.

"...It would be tragic if a preventable disaster were to occur during this high-risk period."

Opponents of the rescue-tug idea, including most of the shipping industry, say the current setup works fine.

Known as the "international tug of opportunity" system, it employs about 90 tugboats in northwest Washington and the Vancouver, British Columbia, area that can be called on at any time to help a stranded ship. The closest tug in the system is expected to drop its regular duties and respond.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? We welcome your feedback.

)1999 Oregon Live LLC


-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), September 17, 1999



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-- Brian (imager@home.com), September 17, 1999.

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