INTERTANKO attends US Marine Board Workshop on Marine Salvage Response Capability

This week INTERTANKO attended a two-day workshop organised by the US National Academy's Marine Board, with the primary purpose of considering the consequences of potential terrorist incidents in US ports and waterways and their affect on operations in these areas. In the US, anti-terrorist preparedness and response have a high priority for all transportation modes and it is considered essential that ports and waterways are kept open to provide services on a continuous, uninterrupted basis.

Given the current variations in salvage missions of the different agencies, the restructuring of some parts of the federal government with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, and resultant changes in agency missions, it is timely to discuss and consider whether there is a need to re-examine US marine salvage response capability, particularly with respect to potential terrorist-related incidents that could affect commercial and military operations in US harbours and waterways.

An exercise was carried out to consider a terrorist-related incident that results in the blockage of two major harbours and waterways (Houston and New Orleans), clearance of the channel/river, waterway, possible damage to locks, etc. Panel sessions at the workshop addressed economic, legal, forensic, environmental, and human casualty issues related to salvage. The principal goals of the workshop were (a) to share information among relevant agencies, organisations, and other interested parties concerning current salvage response capabilities, and (b) to determine if there are any major gaps or concerns with respect to current capabilities and agency roles.

Some of the recommendations agreed by the participants are extremely important for tanker owners and are as follows:

  • Changes to regulations so that only criminal intent should imply criminal liability in case of an accident resulting in casualties/oil spills;
  • Unless criminal intent is demonstrated, grant immunity to seafarers that are part of a post-event investigation;
  • Ensure through regulation affordable terrorist insurance schemes/rates; study and decide how to use the current US based funds available in case of accidents;
  • Propose a procedure for a "Declaration of Disaster" that would trigger the use of such funds;
  • Salvage resources to be available and not limited through regulations (e.g. as proposed now by an USCG rulemaking);
  • Define that a ship which might be the target of a terrorist attack should keep valid its Certification for Vessel Security Plans;
  • Institute sites for Places of Refuge, etc.

The Marine Board will publish in two months a Report, which will then be submitted to the relevant political and regulatory bodies.

Contact: Dragos Rauta