The US Coast Guard has established a temporary 500-yard safety zone around 19 Arctic drilling and towing vessels in an effort to curtail illegal demonstrations and ensure the safety of the vessels, public and environment in the Puget Sound region.
The zone, which is effective from June 22, 2012 to Aug. 1, 2012, was created in response to a situation brewing between Shell Oil and environmental organizations. Shell has been preparing two drill ships – the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer – in Seattle to explore for oil and natural gas this year off Alaska’s north coast.
Environmental groups however, primarily Greenpeace, oppose the drilling due to the potential of an oil spill and the harm it could cause to sea life. The Coast Guard cited a number of illegal demonstrations, including the boarding of vessels off Greenland and in New Zealand, among the reasons for establishing the safety zone.
“Certain unlawful protest activity poses a danger to the life and safety of protesters, target vessels, and other legitimate waterway users. The Coast Guard must take swift action to prevent such harm,” the USCG explained in its federal register notice establishing the zone.
The Arctic drilling, support and towing vessels and assist tugs are expected to operate with limited ability to maneuver during their transit through the Puget Sound and Straits of Juan De Fuca and interference with vessels that are limited in their ability to maneuver “could result in collision, grounding, serious injury, death or pollution in the highly sensitive ecosystem of the Puget Sound,” according to the Coast Guard.
The USCG contends that the safety zone provides ample space for any vessel to operate near the Arctic drilling and support vessels during their transit without disrupting their safe navigation. Vessels wishing to operate near the Arctic drilling and support vessels while the zone is in effect are allowed to enter the outer 400 yards of the safety zone, aft of the pilot house of the vessel or the lead towing vessels, as applicable, as long as they operate at the minimum speed necessary to maintain course.
A full description of the safety zone is available at the Federal Register website .