COASTAL CORP. TO OBSERVE BUFFER ZONE OFF FLORIDA

COASTAL CORP. TO OBSERVE BUFFER ZONE OFF FLORIDA

Two subsidiaries of Coastal Corp., a Houston-based oil company, said this week that they will keep their ships at least five nautical miles offshore when traveling near the Florida Straits.

The voluntary buffer zone established by Coscol Marine Corp. and Coastal Tug and Barge Inc. falls short of a 10-mile tanker-free zone proposed last summer by Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and Paul A. Yost, Coast Guard commandant.The oil industry has criticized the proposal, which is aimed at protecting environmentally sensitive coastal reef areas from oil spills.

"Our vessels will stay at least five nautical miles offshore of the reef line in an area extending from Key Biscayne south to Fort Jefferson National Monument at the end of the Keys," said Dan J. Hill, president of Coastal Tug and Barge Inc. and senior vice president of Coscol Marine Corp., based in Miami.

"Although we never have had a problem and this means longer voyages and greater fuel costs, we want to demonstrate our concern for a very fragile and beautiful environment," he said.

More than 5,000 ships pass in and out of the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida Straits yearly, carrying tens of billions of gallons of petroleum products, according to the governor's office.