Close to 10,000 large commercial vessels transit the Aleutian Islands annually for trade between Asian and US markets, and each of these represents a potential marine environmental hazard should something go amiss, says Buddy Custard, president and CEO of the Alaska Maritime Prevention & Response Network. That number doesn't account for the thousands of fishing vessels, barges, and other boats operating off Alaska's shores. "Our first emphasis is not having an incident whatsoever. It's about protecting the crews, the cargo, and the Alaska coastline," Custard says. "However, our message is: Prevention Focused--Response Ready. In the event of an incident, we maintain and have the capability to mobilize the largest inventory of response resources in the region 24/7."
The Network was created in 2011 by Alaska maritime industry stakeholders as a nonprofit organization to provide enrolled tank and nontank vessel protection in Alaska waters with 24/7 vessel tracking and access to partners with oil spill response resources.
"It's all about making sure that the companies [that are enrolled with the Network] are in compliance with all US federal oil spill, prevention, and response regulations," Custard says.
These regulations are based on the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which came in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. The incident saw about 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Prince William Sound in 1989. It was the worst oil spill in the country's history until the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
According to the EPA, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 "streamlined and strengthened the EPA's ability to prevent and respond to catastrophic oil spills. A trust fund financed by an oil tax is available to clean up spills when the responsible party is incapable or unwilling to do so."
"The [Oil Pollution Act] requires oil storage facilities and vessels to submit to the Federal government plans detailing how they will respond to large discharges," the EPA states in its summary of the act.
Focused on Prevention
The Alaska Maritime Prevention & Response Network places a heavy emphasis on prevention when it comes to the marine environmental services it provides.
"We have a very robust prevention aspect to the scope of work that we provide to mariners through the Network. We do fund a 24/7 monitoring center that's operated by the Marine Exchange of Alaska based out of Juneau," Custard says. "We provide a service where we can help detect vessels that might be in trouble early so that we can render assistance or help coordinate--keeping that vessel out of harm's way."
Signs of distress can look like anything from a vessel's speed slowing down significantly to it coming unusually close to the coastline.
"If we feel like the vessel is slowed down too much, we might inquire: 'Captain, why are you coming to all stop out in the middle of the...