COAST GUARD TEAM TO RECOMMEND JOINT EFFORT ON SPILL PREVENTION

COAST GUARD TEAM TO RECOMMEND JOINT EFFORT ON SPILL PREVENTION

In this era of budgetary restraints, the U.S. Coast Guard believes it can get more bang from each buck spent on oil spill prevention and response by sharing responsibilities with vessel owners, states and vessel classification societies.

Rear Adm. R.D. Herr, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District here, told the Los Angeles-Long Beach Propeller Club Wednesday that a Coast Guard team in Washington is completing a report that will recommend steps to maximize the resources devoted to oil spill prevention and response.The Maritime Regulatory Reform Team report, which is expected to be released around Jan. 1, is an outgrowth of the disastrous Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound and the subsequent Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Adm. Herr said the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill demonstrated a deterioration in the effort among the first three tiers of the oil spill prevention and response effort - the vessel owner, vessel classification societies and "flag states" (countries where vessels are registered).

For that reason, the fourth tier in the effort - the "port state" (where the vessels call) are taking a more aggressive stance on vessel safety. As the enforcement arm of the federal government in this area, the Coast Guard is the lead agency in the United States.

Adm. Herr said the Oil Pollution Act significantly increased the Coast Guard's responsibility to address the vessel safety issue, but current and expected budgetary restraints force the agency to share this burden with states and the private sector.

The oil spill prevention and response plans formulated across the nation are unusual in that they bring the federal, state and local governments and private sector together in a unified effort. This will try to avoid duplication as well as maximize the financial effort of each group, Adm. Herr said.

For instance, he cited the memorandum of understanding between the Coast Guard and the state of California that was signed in June. He said California, unlike some states, has drafted oil spill prevention and response statutes that closely track federal law.

Pete Bontadelli, administrator of California's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, said in a telephone interview from Sacramento that the 1990 American Trader oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach proved the effectiveness of a unified state, federal and private-sector effort.

At the time, Mr. Bontadelli was head of the California Department of Fish and Game, the lead state agency in oil spill prevention and response. By the second day of the disaster, he said, the Coast Guard, the state and British Petroleum had established a joint command to direct cleanup efforts.

The American Trader incident also pushed the drafting of state statutes, which Mr. Bontadelli said closely track federal law in many areas but also ''fill in the gaps" where the state is better able to respond.

For example, whereas the federal government is best suited to ensure the integrity of vessel inspections, California assumes much of the responsibility for monitoring bunkering and lightering operations in the state. A lighter is a boat used to transport cargo between another vessel and the shore.

"The theory is that no government or agency will have all of the money it needs to do everything on its own," Mr. Bontadelli said.

Along those same lines, Adm. Herr said, the Coast Guard may recruit vessel classification societies, such as the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), to assume more of the vessel inspection responsibilities.

Tom Tucker at the ABS headquarters in New York said the classification society has been meeting with the Coast Guard with that goal in mind, but nothing has been completed yet.

"No matter what the Coast Guard decides to do in terms of delegating, they will still retain oversight responsibilities," he added.

Adm. Herr said the intention is also to "put more of the burden where it belongs" for vessel safety - on the shipowner.

He said the Coast Guard is considering a carrot-and-stick approach. For example, vessel owners that achieve ISO 9000 certification may undergo less inspection because they are demonstrating a commitment to safety. ISO 9000 sets industrial safety standards that are generally recognized worldwide.