Ten years after a major shipping disaster, the IMO has approved protective buffer zones, also called “areas to be avoided, around Alaska’s Aleutian Islands
In December 2004, the bulk cargo ship M/V Selendang Ayu foundered off the Aleutians in severe weather and was blown to shore, eventually breaking into two pieces and spilling more than 300,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the water. Six crew died.
Company plea agreement money was used to identify and quantify risks to navigational safety and the environment in the area, and measures to reduce those risks. Those measures were vetted by various stakeholders, resulting in several recommendations, including placing a designated assist tug in the Aleutians and establishing Areas to be Avoided. The latter was formally brought to IMO in early March.
The five proposed Areas to be Avoided stretch for 1,200 miles across the North Pacific and generally extend no more than 55 miles from shore. This new buffer is designed for vessels making transoceanic voyages through the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean adjacent to the islands. They provide powerless, drifting vessels time to undergo repairs, or to launch an emergency response effort.
The proposal will move forward to the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) for consideration in July 2015.
An IMO subcommittee also created new ship routing measures in the southwest Coral Sea aimed at protecting areas off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The recommended area to be avoided and two 5nm-wide two-way shipping routes on either side aim to reduce the risk of ship collisions and groundings by separating opposing traffic streams.
The IMO’s MEPC will consider the recommendations in May and, if approved, to the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in June for adoption.
On the heels of that news, Australia detailed in mid-March how it plans to ban the dumping of dredge soil in the GBR.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is due to decide in June whether to put the reef on its “in danger” list because its corals have been badly damaged and some of its animal species, including dugong and large green turtles, are threatened, according to a report by Reuters news service.
Such a listing could lead to restrictions on shipping and port expansions that could hit Australia’s trade in commodities and energy.