Tuesday, April 21, 2015

USCG Creates Safety Zones Around Arctic Drillers

By Mark Edward Nero

The US Coast Guard 13th District commander, in conjunction with the Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound captain of the port, has established temporary safety zones associated with Arctic drilling and support vessels in Puget Sound from April 15 through June 30.

A 500-yard safety zone is in place around the Noble Discoverer, Blue Marlin, Polar Pioneer, Aiviq and other Arctic drilling-related vessels while underway. A 100-yard safety zone will be in place around the vessels while moored or anchored.

The zones are necessary, according to the Coast Guard, to allow “maximum use of the waterway by all users consistent with safe navigation,” and to ensure mariners aren’t injured by deep-draft and support vessels that have maneuvering characteristics that they might not be familiar with.

The Coast Guard has also established an associated “Voluntary First Amendment Area,” a regulated navigation area in Elliott Bay that was developed following discussions with several special interest groups. The area is one where the Coast Guard recommends – but does not require – those desiring to express their views on Arctic drilling to assemble.

Regional and national environmental groups in recent weeks have come out strongly against any Arctic drilling equipment being housed in Puget Sound.

“Whether intentional or unintentional, interference with deep-draft and other vessels, particularly those with limited ability to maneuver, has the potential to result in collision, grounding, serious injury, death or pollution in the highly sensitive ecosystem of Puget Sound,” the USCG said in an April 16 statement announcing and explaining the restrictions. “The safety zones provide ample space for any vessel to operate near during their transit without disrupting their safe navigation.”

The signed temporary final rule establishing the safety zones and Voluntary First Amendment Area will be published in the Federal Register at www.federalregister.gov