Report identifies concerns with tanker escort tugs being built for service in Prince William Sound

The council has identified some areas of concern with the design of the new escort and general purpose tugs under construction by Edison Chouest Offshore for use in Prince William Sound. These concerns and recommendations result from a council-commissioned analysis of the tugs by Robert Allan Ltd., a naval architecture and marine engineering company.

Edison Chouest Offshore is taking over the marine services contract for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in the summer of 2018. Crowley Maritime has held the contract since the creation of Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The services provided under this contract include escort tugs, general purpose tugs, oil recovery storage barges, and associated personnel, all of which are key oil spill prevention and response assets for the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated oil tankers operating in Prince William Sound. Robert Allan Ltd. was contracted by the council to review and evaluate drawings and other vessel design materials provided by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. This review includes information that was provided to the council as of December 14, 2016.

The council recognizes the construction of new vessels, including five escort tugs, four general purpose tugs and four open-water response barges, represents a significant improvement for the oil spill prevention and response system. In some cases, the new general purpose tugs will replace existing conventional tugs that are over 40 years old. The escort tugs will be equipped with render-recover winches, a sophisticated technology that automatically maintains constant tension on a line, improving safety and performance during towing. Another upgrade to the escort tugs is the addition of forward-looking infrared and digital radar signal processing systems to improve the detection of icebergs, as well as enhancing the ability to detect spilled oil in water should prevention measures fail.

“While the council is encouraged by some of the improvements that will come with this transition, our review has revealed some areas of concern that the council is bringing to the attention of Alyeska, so they can be addressed before construction is complete,” said Donna Schantz, executive director for the council. “Alyeska has been responsive to the concerns identified, and has stated that some modifications are already being worked.”

The council has also shared this information with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Coast Guard, as the state and federal regulatory agencies overseeing the transition. The council fully supports all efforts to monitor this transition, including review of the vessel designs and sending experts to the shipyards to monitor the vessel building process. A goal of the citizens’ council is to ensure that each vessel is appropriate for its intended use, and that the designs are optimal for ensuring the highest level of oil spill prevention and response capabilities to protect Prince William Sound and the downstream communities.

The council is continuing to review information as it is provided by Alyeska and may modify findings and recommendations as appropriate. In addition to the escort and general purpose tug review, the council will be developing recommendations on the new response barges as well as exercise and training programs designed to ensure that incoming crews are qualified and proficient in the duties they are to perform. The council has been participating in a series of information-sharing meetings with Alyeska, Edison Chouest Offshore, Crowley Maritime, the oil shippers, Alaska Department of Environment Conservation and the U.S. Coast Guard, and anticipates attending drills, exercises, and touring the vessel construction facilities starting later this year.

The full report can be found here: A Review of the Proposed New Escort and Support Tugs for Tanker Operations in Prince William Sound

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