Prince William Sound has some of the most environmentally sensitive coastal areas and shoreline habitats in Alaska. It contains many sensitive biological resources, marine mammals, national forests, state critical habitat areas, and state parks.
However, Prince William Sound also sees a wide variety of marine traffic such as oil tankers, commercial fishing boats, ferries, cruise ships, and freighters.
Leaking or disabled vessels may require a sheltered location with appropriate water depth to repair or lighter the vessel. Vessels should be anchored or moored in protected waters to safely undergo repairs and minimize polluting downstream environmental resources and shoreline.
There is no perfect anchoring site for all vessels and all situations. Decision-makers must address both environmental and operational issues when deciding where to take stricken vessels. Pre-identifying places of safe refuge for leaking or disabled vessels in Prince William Sound is invaluable guidance for decision-makers who might be faced with a crisis involving a disabled vessel.
In the aftermath of the Prestige incident (an oil tanker whose sinking in 2002 off the Spanish coast caused a huge oil spill), there has been a push from many arenas for a comprehensive review of the current process of determining safe refuge for distressed ships.