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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment CHAPTER 1 Introduction Several vessel accidents and spills of oil and other fuels in recent years near the Aleutian Islands have focused attention on the potential risks posed by vessels operating in the region. The most serious of these incidents, occurring in December 2004, was the grounding and breakup of the M/V Selendang Ayu, a large bulk grain carrier, which resulted in a spill of 336,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil and six fatalities. Such incidents are of concern because of the biological, cultural, and economic significance of the Aleutian Islands, as well as their geopolitical importance for the United States. Vessel accidents and spills can have serious negative impacts on the region’s ecosystem, devastating endemic and migrating wildlife and plant species and the economies that depend on the region’s rich resources. STUDY CONTEXT Vessel Traffic in the Aleutian Islands Commercial shipping between the west coast of North America and Asia is substantial and growing. Over the past decade, it has increased by approximately 5 percent annually, and it is forecast
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment to continue to grow at a similar rate in the coming decade. Most of these ships use the North Pacific Great Circle Route—the most direct transit route between Pacific coast ports of the United States and Asia—which brings them through or near the Aleutians. Unimak Pass at the eastern end of the Aleutian Islands sees about 4,500 vessel transits annually. Growth of commercial traffic in the region is expected because of both an increase in maritime trade and expanded economic activity in the Arctic that will open up new shipping routes through the Aleutians. Economic activity is expected to increase in the Arctic as the southern extent of the summer ice pack thins, enabling ice-capable ships to travel through the region. According to a recent report of the National Research Council (NRC), “Those deploying fishing fleets, cruise ships, mining, and the associated ore transit ships, as well as petroleum recovery and tanker ship transport, anticipate increased operations in the region. When current orders for ice-strengthened tankers have been filled, the worldwide fleet of these vessels will double in number” (NRC 2007, 5). Some of these tankers will be transiting through the Aleutian region. Given current trends in both maritime trade and climate change, growth in vessel traffic in the Aleutian Islands is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. All other factors remaining constant, this growing traffic will result in an increased risk of vessel accidents and spills. In addition to commercial ships that transit the region, fishing vessels, ferries, cruise ships, tugs, and barges operate in and around the Aleutians. Because some fishing grounds are at the north end of Akun Island, fishing vessels must cross the commercial traffic lanes. Moreover, two or three large cruise ships operate annually in the Aleutians, 10 cruise ships visit Dutch Harbor every summer, and about 20 trips are made each year via the Alaska Marine Highway. These numbers are also expected to increase, adding more north–south vessel traffic through the region. Safety Concerns The Aleutian Island chain, consisting of approximately 300 volcanic islands, extends westward about 1,200 miles from the southwestern tip of the Alaska Peninsula toward the Kamchatka Peninsula and occupies an area of about 6,820 square miles. The region is
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment remote and contains few large harbors. Responding to emergencies is difficult because capable vessels and equipment are located great distances away. For example, the nearest U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) base with search and rescue capabilities is located at Kodiak, Alaska, almost 500 miles east of Unimak Pass at the eastern end of the island chain. Many factors in the Aleutian region converge to raise public concern about the risk of vessel accidents. A central factor is the unique and valuable natural resources of the region that could suffer damage from vessel accidents. The Aleutians contain one of the most important marine ecosystems in the world (including the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge). They are home as well to the largest and most valuable commercial fishing grounds of the United States, and the local economy depends heavily on the fishing industry. The region is also characterized by a substantial variety of maritime industrial activities, with large ships carrying hazardous cargoes, and a history of accidents and spills with inadequate response. This study is intended to address these concerns by developing a framework for assessing the future risks of vessel accidents and spills in the Aleutians and providing the justification for appropriate safety improvements. Vessel Accidents in the Aleutians On December 8, 2004, the bulk grain ship M/V Selendang Ayu, which had lost power and been adrift for about 53 hours in heavy seas and winds ranging from Beaufort force 7 (near gale) to force 11 (violent storm), grounded and subsequently broke up during a storm on the north side of Unalaska Island. The ship spilled about 336,000 gallons of fuel oil and diesel fuel and oiled portions of 70 miles of coastline, affecting commercial fish habitats and subsistence hunting, gathering, and fishing areas and killing seabirds (NOAA 2007). The incident drew international attention because six crew members were lost when a helicopter attempting to evacuate the crew crashed into the sea. This incident helped focus attention on the oil spill risks posed by vessels transiting the Aleutian Islands. The M/V Selendang Ayu incident, however, was not isolated. Each year, accidents and near accidents occur in the Aleutians with the potential for significant environmental and economic consequences. For example, between 1981 and 1999 there were 41 oil spill incidents
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment in the Aleutians for which USCG requested assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Hazardous Materials Response Unit (NOAA 2000). According to NOAA, “for the past 25 years, the Aleutian Islands have averaged nearly one oil spill of 1,000 gallons or more per year” (NOAA 2007, 1). Moreover, between 1991 and 2004, 45 casualties due to vessel incidents were reported throughout the Aleutian Island chain; of these casualties, 16 resulted from incidents involving loss of maneuverability. By comparison, during the same period, 415 casualties were reported for all U.S. vessels, most of which were fishing vessels. Before the M/V Selendang Ayu incident, the largest, most expensive, and most prolonged spill response in the Aleutians was to the 1997 grounding on Unalaska Island of the M/V Kuroshima, a 368-foot frozen-seafood freighter. The ship broke its anchorage during a storm and ran aground. It was estimated that the vessel released 39,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil that affected approximately 3,500 feet of ocean shoreline and about 1.6 miles of shoreline in Summer Bay Lake (ADEC 1997a; ADEC 1997b). Because this spill was adjacent to the communities of Dutch Harbor and Unalaska, the grounded vessel and oil pollution were relatively accessible. However, the cleanup effort lasted more than a year, and the spill negatively affected biological resources, human subsistence, and recreational resources (NOAA 2000). Shortly after the grounding of the M/V Kuroshima, the containership Hanjin Barcelona collided with the Alaska-1, a catcher–processor vessel, north of Dutch Harbor. The Alaska-1 sank, although its entire crew was rescued. CURRENT RISK REDUCTION MEASURES The M/V Selendang Ayu accident highlighted the lack of knowledge about the extent and nature of vessel traffic transiting the North Pacific Great Circle Route between the west coast of North America and the Far East and sharing waters used by local marine traffic. It also served as a catalyst for action by the State of Alaska and USCG to mitigate the potential risks involved. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and USCG, which “have a responsibility to minimize the potential for incidents and
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment to be prepared for any contingency,” either jointly or individually, have recently initiated a number of measures to this end, including the following (ADEC 2006, 1): Automatic identification systems (AIS) capability has been installed at Scotch Cap to track vessels transiting Unimak Pass. Stakeholder input is sought to establish priorities, objectives, and action plans as part of the emergency response process. Potential places of refuge are being identified and plans developed so that vessels in distress can be anchored safely while undergoing repair. Geographic response strategies—site-specific spill response methods to protect sensitive coastal areas—are being developed and will provide first responders with guidance for the rapid implementation of preidentified actions to protect these areas. A Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment (PAWSA) for the Aleutian Islands was sponsored to examine preventive measures for improving safety in the region. A multistage risk assessment of maritime transportation in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian archipelago is being planned. The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which entered into force in 1994, provides authority for coastal states to manage vessels on innocent passage through territorial seas; however, USCG and the State of Alaska remain unclear about their specific authority to regulate ship traffic directly through U.S. waters in the Aleutians. While foreign vessels on innocent passage are not subject to regulation by coastal states with respect to hull construction, manning, and equipment, coastal states do have the right under UNCLOS to impose regulations regarding such matters as safe navigation, maritime traffic, pollution prevention, and establishment of sea lanes and traffic separation schemes (see Chapter 3). Until the M/V Selendang Ayu incident, estimates of the volume of marine traffic were not being made, although USCG had conducted traffic counts during two months in 2004. Since being installed, the AIS monitoring devices at Scotch Cap have provided data that allow estimation of transits made by vessels over 300 gross tons on international voyages through the pass by date and in association with prevailing weather conditions. In July 2006, USCG hosted a workshop for the PAWSA of the Aleutian Islands in Anchorage (USCG 2006). The workshop
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment included broad representation from waterway users, regulatory authorities, and various stakeholders with a vested interest in the safe and efficient use of the Aleutian Islands for commercial and recreational purposes. Participants examined a wide variety of options for helping to prevent and respond to vessel incidents at or near Unimak Pass and the eastern Aleutians. (The geographic region addressed was limited to 168°W longitude to the east; 162°W longitude to the west, including Dutch and Akutan Harbors; the portion of the Bering Sea bounded by the Great Circle Route to the north; and the Unimak Pass traffic fairway and Unalaska Island to the south.) Other options besides those considered for the PAWSA have been proposed, a number of which were presented to the committee at its October 29–30, 2007, meeting in Anchorage. (See Appendix A for a list of risk mitigation options presented to the committee by representatives of federal, state, and local governments, as well as industry and stakeholder organizations.) In addition, the State of Alaska commissioned a study (Nuka Research and Planning Group 2006) for which records from a variety of sources were assembled to estimate the scale and nature of vessel traffic and the frequency of vessel incidents in the Aleutian region, and to evaluate gaps in existing data and recommend needed improvements. The pertinent results of that study are described in more detail in later chapters of this report. On August 14, 2007, following the M/V Selendang Ayu accident investigation, IMC Shipping Company PTE Ltd., the owner of the ship, pled guilty to two counts of illegal discharging and one count of killing migratory birds. Under the plea agreement, IMC is required to pay $3 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation “for the purpose of conducting an Aleutian Islands risk assessment of the shipping hazards for that area as well as projects identified by the risk assessment” (Selendang Ayu Settlement 2007, 12). (See Appendix B for the complete plea agreement.) On September 30, 2007, USCG and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation executed a memorandum of agreement establishing the Vessel Source Pollution Prevention and Compliance Fund, under which the Aleutian Islands risk assessment will be undertaken. The fund will “receive monies to be used to protect coastal and marine habitats and species by improving general understanding and knowledge of and promoting compliance with marine environmental protection laws of the United States” (USCG 2007, 1).
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, established in 1984, is a nonprofit corporation that is directed to undertake activities to further the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, and plant resources for present and future generations. It is authorized to accept funds from any legal source to further its mission. A subaccount was established for specific activities required under the settlement for the M/V Selendang Ayu case. A multistage risk assessment of maritime transportation in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian archipelago is being planned. The National Academies study that is the subject of this report represents the beginning of a long-term risk assessment and mitigation strategy. STUDY OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE Following the Exxon Valdez spill, a comprehensive risk assessment of shipping through the Prince William Sound region was undertaken. An NRC committee subsequently conducted a review of that study and identified a number of concerns with regard to its methodology, use of expert elicitation, and treatment of uncertainty (NRC 1998). The NRC report had minimal influence because it was published after the assessment had been completed. When the decision was made to conduct a risk assessment for the Aleutian Island region, the State of Alaska and USCG proactively solicited the National Academies’ input in advance of conducting the study. They requested that this committee develop a framework and procedure for the risk assessment, as described in the committee’s statement of task: to examine available data and evidence about the risk of spills from vessels transiting the Aleutian Islands, determine the information needed to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment, recommend the appropriate framework for such an assessment, and identify how a comprehensive risk assessment could be conducted in discrete steps. The framework would establish the most appropriate and scientifically rigorous risk assessment approach possible given available data and modeling capability. The steps would provide a logical sequence of building blocks toward a comprehensive assessment that could be conducted as future funding becomes available. In carrying out its charge, the committee identified a sequence of phases and steps for a comprehensive risk assessment that can be undertaken as funding becomes available.
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment While it is recognized that shipping through the Aleutian Islands poses risks to people, habitats, and the environment, the extent of those risks is not well understood because a comprehensive risk assessment has never been conducted for this area. Risk is inherent in this as in any system—it can be reduced and managed, but it cannot be eliminated. Risk assessment is widely used in the marine industry by government and private authorities to help manage the risks associated with shipping operations. Assessing risk involves addressing three key questions: What can go wrong? How likely is it? and What are the impacts? Efforts to answer these questions are organized systematically into discrete steps that involve identifying hazards (or creating risk scenarios), determining the likelihood of their occurrence, and identifying their consequences (NRC 1997; NRC 1994). The present study describes the fundamental steps of risk assessment and applies them to the question of how to minimize vessel accidents and spills in the Aleutian Islands. Many stakeholder groups in the Aleutians should be knowledgeable about the risks associated with shipping operations in the region so that informed guidance can be provided. Involvement and a shared commitment among these parties, along with effective communication, training, and procedures, can make efforts to manage the risks of vessel accidents and spills more effective. STRUCTURE OF THE REPORT The remainder of this report is organized into six chapters. Chapter 2 describes the fundamentals of risk assessment, including the methodology, how the assessment is usually structured and managed, and how the committee used these principles to develop a recommended approach for the Aleutian assessment. Chapter 3 describes the region’s local assets and their vulnerability, its climate, and its maritime infrastructure. Chapter 4 presents available information on vessel traffic, movement of hazardous goods, accidents, and spills in the Aleutians, as well as the regulatory framework for navigation in the region. Chapter 5 presents the committee’s recommended organization of the risk assessment, while Chapter 6 describes the proposed technical approach for conducting the assessment. Finally, Chapter 7 contains the committee’s conclusions and recommendations.
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Risk of Vessel Accidents and Spills in the Aleutian Islands: Designing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment REFERENCES Abbreviations ADEC Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation NOAA U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NRC National Research Council USCG United States Coast Guard ADEC. 1997a. Situation Report Number 2 on the M/V Kuroshima Aground, Unalaska. Division of Spill Prevention and Response, Nov. 27. ADEC. 1997b. Situation Report Number 5 on the M/V Kuroshima Aground, Unalaska. Division of Spill Prevention and Response, Nov. 30. ADEC. 2006. Coast Guard, State of Alaska, National Academies Discuss Aleutian Islands Risks. Press release. www.dec.state.ak.us/spar/perp/ai_risk/pr_08dec2006.pdf. NOAA. 2000. The Aleutian Islands and Lower Alaska Peninsula During 1981–1999. HAZMAT Report 2000-3. National Ocean Service, Anchorage, Alaska. NOAA. 2007. Protecting and Restoring Natural Resources in Alaska. www.darrp.noaa.gov/factsheet/pdf/Alaska/DARRP_State_Factsheets_Alaska.pdf. NRC. 1994. Science and Judgment in Risk Assessment. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1997. Risk Assessment and Management at Deseret Chemical Depot and the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 1998. Review of the Prince William Sound, Alaska, Risk Assessment Study. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRC. 2007. Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. Nuka Research and Planning Group, LLC. 2006. An Assessment of the Role of Human Factors in Oil Spills from Vessels. Report to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. Seldovia, Alaska. Selendang Ayu Settlement. 2007. United States of America vs. IMC Shipping Co. PTE Ltd. Aug. 13. USCG. 2006. Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment (PAWSA) Workshop Report, Aleutian Islands. July 24–25. www.dec.state.ak.us/SPAR/PERP/ai_risk/aleutian_islands_finalrpt.pdf. USCG. 2007. USCG Agency Representative for Vessel Source Pollution Prevention and Compliance Fund, Aleutian Island Risk Assessment Sub-Account. Letter from Rear Admiral James Watson (U.S. Coast Guard Director of Prevention Policy) to Liz Epstein (Manager, Special Funds, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation).