Preliminary hearing on Athos incident in the Delaware River

On Tuesday, 18 January 2005, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, held an oversight field hearing in Philadelphia, PA, to review the circumstances that led to the discharge of oil from the panamax tanker Athos into the Delaware River on 26 November 2004 and also to review the response to the discharge. Also attending this hearing were Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) and Rep. Schwartz (D-PA). 

Witnesses included RAdm Sally Brice-O'Hara (Commander Fifth Coast Guard District), Lt Col Robert Ruch (Commander U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) Philadelphia District), Bradley Campbell (Commissioner, NJ Dept of Environmental Protection), Kathleen McGinty (Secretary, PA Dept of Environmental Protection), Dennis Rochford (President, Maritime Exchange for Delaware River and Bay) and Eric Stiles (Vice President, NJ Audubon Society, a local environmentalist organisation). 

The hearing focused mainly on the possible cause of the spill (a large cast iron U-shaped object 12.5 feet long, protruding about 3 feet above the river floor), the capabilities of the ACOE to detect and remove such objects, and the response to clean up the spill.  

However, other issues were raised during the hearing that are of concern to INTERTANKO: 

  1. Accelerating the OPA 90 phase-out schedule for single hulls (either nationally or regionally for the Delaware River);
  2. Reinstating the tax on ship owners to replenish the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund;
  3. Raising the U.S. limits of liability;
  4. Establishing a minimum underkeel clearance that could be linked to tides before a tanker is allowed to transit the river;
  5. Establishing a port fee for single hull tankers.

LoBiondo concluded the hearing by stating that this was a preliminary fact-finding hearing and that he fully expects a more detailed hearing to be held on this matter later this year, probably after the U.S. Coast Guard has concluded its investigation into the cause of the incident.  

There was a desire expressed by the congressional members to take some sort of legislative action in response to this incident, but there is as yet no clear indication as to what that action will be.  

INTERTANKO will continue to follow developments closely, expressing its views on any proposed action at the appropriate time.  

Contact: Joe Angelo