The OPA 90 Tank Final Rules which have been enforced since 2011 states that “The authority for implementing these regulations is delegated to COTPs and their representatives. Salvage and Marine FireFighting response networks have been put in place. Shipowners have entered contracts, with funding agreements, for response to be available within timeframes (constantly audited). Coast Guard leadership is needed to monitor substantial threats of pollution and reinforce when SMFF responses are needed.”
This means that all tank vessels must be engaged with one of the five Salvage and Marine FireFighting providers and list them in their Vessel Response Plans in order to trade in US waters. Actually, you have a pre arranged agreement with the salvor which is a scary thing for lot of people. However, part of this regulation is to relieve the stigma of the salvor to cause proactive relationship with us and the ship owner in ordderto be prepared for the casualty. As of this year, every vessel trading in the US water is required to have a contract with a Salvage and Marine Fire Fighting provider with the passing of the NON Tank Final Rule. Marine Reponse Alliance covers all USCG COPT Zones which are actually 17 different districts. There are very specific timeframe requirements indicating how we have to respond. Depending on the type of incident, we have different timeframes in the continental US as well as offshore US. These timeframes are strictly enforced by the USCG.
The Non-Tank Final Rules are certainly the talk of the down for us in the US and if you are a ship owner trading in the US waters with non-tank vessels for you as well. This means that now all vessels including mega yachts, cruise lines must be engaged with a contract with a Salvage Marione Fire Fighting provider with the preexisting Funding Agreement.
The big question is what have we seen since the tank and non-tank regulations have been enforced. Many shipowners are asking me of the punishment of not activating your vessel response plan. Well, we don’t have a definition for that, but please don’t be the first one to find out. This is probably our biggest challenge; to decide when to activate the vessel response plan. So, the vessel response plan is activated once the Master has determined that the resources and personnel available on board cannot meet the needs of an actual or potential incident. Many are a little bit afraid when activating their plan because there are lots of levels involved. However, one of the reasons that we have these regulations is to control the salvors and their available resources.
A very interesting case study to analyze is of the car carrier Cougar Ace. While she was en route from Japan to the US and Canada, she lost stability and developed an 80-degree list to port during a transfer of ballast water, another USCG regulation, that technically failed. This was pre-enforcement of the non-tank regulation but post OPA 90. In this case, the owner had us listed as their Salvage Marine Fire Fighting provider. Our team mobilized Titan Salvage and Crowley Maritime for their tugs to support logistics. A big issue here was to find a port of refuge. In order to do so, we actually had to drop our salvage masters using rock climbing techniques into the ship trying to find out where exactly the water was inside the vessel. In this case, we created the first computer model on site to show where the water was to the USCG in order to grant us a port of refuge – which they did – as well as to perform a sequence ballast pumping system so we could then upright the vessel. In general, if you have an incident in the US, we actually operate in the Unified Command structure an there may be as many as 400 experts in the command. It is very important to know all the participating parties; your salvor, your QI etc because when incident may occur, many people will be involved in the operations. Cougar Ace was eventually returned to her owners after 24 days and she still operates today. Her sister ship, the Baltic Ace, was not as lucky as to being able to be recovered. It was a totally different incident happened in North Sea which turned out into a 60 million dollar wreck removal. However, in this region (North Sea) they do not have regulations such as OPA 90, in the US we have the most strict regulations enforced for salvage and pollution control. Multiple stages are still in process for the Baltic Ace.
Lessons learned so far:
The growing challenge for us is certainly the growing vessel size. Our biggest concern, I must say, the growing size of containerships. In conclusion, the salvors are your partners in preparedness. Drills and exercises are very useful tools for QI’s, ship owners, and salvors. Many situations that we have seen on paper in drills have happened in real life. This kind of proactive approach to large scale scenario drills will create better performance and response from all sides. What I suggest is not to just think about the oil coming out of the ship but think about of a major salvage casualty and be proactive by making different scenarios and working closer with the salvors.
Above article is an edited version of Lindsay Malen’s presentation during 2014 SAFETY4SEA Forum
More details may be found by viewing her Presentation video