COAST GUARD TO RETAIN SIZE OF AVOIDANCE AREA

COAST GUARD TO RETAIN SIZE OF AVOIDANCE AREA

The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded that a so-called area to be avoided (ATBA) off the western Washington coast does not need to be expanded to include all vessels traversing the region.

As it stands now, the ATBA, which runs from just north of Gray's Harbor, Wash., along the coast of the Olympic Peninsula to the north end of Cape Flattery, applies only to vessels carrying oil or hazardous materials cargoes.Last December, the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization adopted the ATBA for western Washington, which recommended that oil and hazardous materials tank vessels and barges avoid the area. The area was established to reduce the risk of marine casualties and pollution damage to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. It took effect June 5.

In January the Coast Guard requested comments and scheduled hearings to examine whether the ATBA should be extended to other categories of vessels.

The agency received more than 50 comments, and nearly all of them said the ATBA should not be changed. "Those commenters were generally concerned that any changes would adversely impact trade competitiveness and jobs in struggling coastal Washington communities," said a Coast Guard notice.

Environmental and marine conservation groups said the area should be expanded because the current ATBA applies to only 15 percent of the ships that navigate the area. They also cited concerns about the potential consequences of spills of large amounts of bunker fuel from bulk vessels and containerships.

After evaluating the comments, the Coast Guard concluded that expanding the ATBA "is not justified at this time."