The Neah Bay tug is smart insurance

Seattle Times – Editorial

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 – Page updated at 12:00 AM

Six times during the past winter season, the rescue tug at Neah Bay was called out to help ships in distress on Washington’s busy outer coastline and the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Paying for a tug to be on call is expensive, but it pales before the cost of ships drifting onto the rocks and causing major oil spills.Such recognition helped convince the state Legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire to provide $3.7 million for year-round coverage. A contract extension was signed Monday, and the service begins in July.

Coverage in the past has run from early fall to mid-spring, but it ended early this year, when higher fuel costs tapped out available funds. Crowley Maritime Corporation will provide the full year of service.

Big ships can get into trouble quickly when they lose steering or propulsion. State-funded tugs have been on duty at Neah Bay since 1999, and they have responded to 40 calls for help.

The prospect of better weather in summer months is no assurance of smooth sailing. The 1991 Tenyo Maru disaster occurred in July.

Stable funding for emergency-response tugs is the key to protecting valuable fisheries and shellfish harvests, and equally abundant Puget Sound recreational activities and tourism.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell is pursuing congressional support for 12-month coverage of the strait. This topic will not go away, and without federal help it will be back before the Legislature in 2009.

Nine-thousand ships pass through the strait each year. History informs us it takes only one grounding or collision to do vast environmental damage and consume truly spectacular sums of money.

The daily cost of an on-call tug is expensive — $8,500, plus fuel. The absence of that insurance policy could be catastrophic.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

~ by fredfelleman on April 15, 2008.

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