A GOOD SOLDIER bids a farewell at noon today.

By Paul Gottlieb

Peninsula Daily News 3.7.08

That’s when state funding runs out for the Gladiator emergency response tugboat.

The tug departs its Neah Bay berth at 12:01 p.m.Its absence means the fuel-laden tankers, cargo ships and barges that ply the Strait of Juan de Fuca will be without immediate assistance should they break down or otherwise go adrift — and potentially rip apart upon submerged rock or the looming shoreline.

Neah Bay emergency response tugs have helped steer to safety 40 disabled freighters, tankers, barges and other vessels in distress during fall-winter since 1999.Annually, there are 10,500 transits of the Strait.

About 16 billion gallons of oil move through our waters.

But there’s good news:

State officials and a key state legislator expect the Gladiator or another rescue tug to return 116 days from now, on July 1.

What’s new is the goal of year-round coverage.

That’s the word from Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, the House majority leader and one of three legislators representing Jefferson and Clallam counties in Olympia, and from state Department of Ecology spokesman Curt Hart.

Kessler told me Thursday she is “99 percent sure” the state Senate and House will include $3.65 million in the 2008-2009 budget by the time the Legislature adjourns next Thursday, more than double the current amount allotted the tug.”

It would have to be something highly unusual for [the tug funding] to ever come out” of the budget, she said.

Said Hart in a separate telephone interview:

“If they give us year-round funding, we will have a tug there July 1.”

Once funding is approved, Ecology will put out bids under which taxpayers would pay $10,000 a day — $416 an hour — to keep a tug at the ready 365 days a year.

The tug must be staffed 24 hours a day with a crew of at least five. (The Gladiator has a crew of seven.)

The tug also must have firefighting equipment and withstand 30-50 knot winds and 12-15 foot waves.

But the $3.65 million may not be enough to have a year-round rescue tug for 2008-2009.

That’s largely because of fuel costs.

Which is why $10,000 a day may not be enough for Gladiator owner Crowley Maritime Corp. to be in the picture come July 1.

Dean Yamada, Neah Bay response tug contract manager for Crowley, was not optimistic Thursday that $3.65 million would be enough to cover 365 days.

“At that number, $10,000 [a day], no it wouldn’t,” Yamada said in a telephone interview.

“With that much money, it would not be a year-round contract. The money would run out.

“Fuel in the transportation business is the biggest expense any operator has.

“Especially as of Thursday, when oil hit a record $105 a barrel.Crowley, based in Jacksonville, Fla., has had the contract since Jan. 1, 2007, taking over for Foss Tug & Barge of Seattle.

Ecology’s contract with Crowley pays $8,500 a day plus $500 for fuel.

“At the current rate, it is below market,” Yamada said.

“We are breaking even. What we do find is that we do a service. The upside is having a boat run year-round.”

Vice President of West Coast Services Chris Peterson said Thursday $10,000 is “a tight number to work with,” but emphasized Crowley would keep an open mind.

The tug’s biggest cost is crew and fuel. The range of annual salaries is about $100,000 for the captain to “the $50,000-a-year range” for deckhands, Peterson said.

Because of not enough state money, year-round coverage may go by the wayside, Hart said.

“We have to make sure we get the best deal we can for the citizens of the state.”

Attempts to fund the tug with federal funds have failed.

Crowley’s 7,200-horsepower Gladiator has been docked at Neah Bay since Oct. 1, the shortest stay for a rescue tug in a series of storm-season-only contracts since 2000-2001.

The Gladiator escorted or outright rescued six vessels this winter, the most recent, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a bulk cargo carrier almost seven football fields long.

Pump failure crippled the 651-foot Star Indiana, which later regained power.

Since 2000-2001, more than 18 vessels have lost power or otherwise gone inert when no rescue tug was duty.

All vessels in distress during tugless periods have regained power without damage or spills.

So far.

Paul Gottlieb is editor of the Commentary page; 360-417-3536, or you can e-mail him at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

~ by fredfelleman on March 7, 2008.

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