By Mark Edward Nero
Maritime labor leaders who say they’re concerned about the safety of Prince William Sound and the creation and retention of good-paying Alaska jobs expressed concerns on Aug. 22 about a contract announced last month between Alyeska Pipeline Services Co. and shipbuilder Edison Chouest Offshore.
Under the contract, Edison Chouest Offshore is to provide marine tanker escort and spill prevention and response support in Prince William Sound, including the Valdez Narrows through Hinchinbrook Entrance.
“We’re insisting that state and local authorities take a much closer look at this agreement, which was negotiated behind closed doors with the goal of cutting costs and cutting corners,” Alan Cote, president of the Inlandboatmen’s Union said. “Alaska workers and citizens deserve due diligence and transparency before putting human and natural resources at risk.”
Alyeska, owned by oil giants BP, Conoco and ExxonMobil, announced in July that it has decided to replace Crowley Marine, despite the company having provided oil tanker escort and oil spill response services for 25 years without serious incident.
The transfer of operations to Edison Chouest Offshore has raised both economic and environmental concerns, says the union, particularly in light of the company’s role in the Kulluk oil rig disaster, a December 2012 incident in which Kulluk drifted aground after the icebreaking anchor-handling tug Aiviq lost the tow in heavy weather. Although the Kulluk was recovered, the damage was heavy enough that Shell decided to scrap the vessel in 2014.
Aiviq was built and operated for Shell by Edison Chouest, which is based in Louisiana, but has an Alaska presence. Alyeska and Edison Chouest have said that a vigorous vetting process took place before the deal between the two parties was sealed.
Alyeska also cited Edison Chouest Offshore’s safety record, in-depth experience and technical capability, management systems and equipment options as important considerations in its decision to issue the new contract.
However, Don Marcus, president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots denigrated the agreement as being a result of cost cutting.
“Edison Chouest is a financially troubled company that eliminated more than 2,000 jobs in 2015 and forced deep wage and benefit cuts this year. Rather than using crews experienced in Alaska’s unforgiving maritime conditions or hiring Alaskan workers, they plan to bring Gulf Coast workers off of layoff and give them the difficult task of operating in Prince William Sound,” Marcus said.
The new contract calls for a transition plan of about 24 months.