Coast Guard wants escorts for single-hull barges on Buzzards Bay

The region shaded darker blue is the area covered by New Coast Guard regulations. (Ginny Howe illustration)

The U.S. Coast Guard has announced new regulations that require tugs pulling single-hull oil barges to be accompanied by a second tug when transiting Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay.

The new regulations, which go into effect Nov. 28, mirror some of the regulations that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has previously tried to impose. The federal government opposed the state regulations, arguing that the state was trespassing in an area in which the Coast Guard has jurisdiction.
The new Coast Guard regulations require single-hull barges carrying 5,000 barrels of oil or more to be escorted by a second tug that could provide assistance in the event of a problem. The regulations also require that a federally licensed pilot be present with the crew aboard the primary towing vessel while the vessel is transiting Buzzards Bay. Tugs towing barges must also participate in a Vessel Movement Reporting System (VMRS) that has been established by the Coast Guard.
The federal government and the state continue to argue over the rules governing shipping in Buzzards Bay. The state regulations were struck down by a federal judge in July 2006. The judge ruled that major portions of the state law were unconstitutional and violated federal jurisdiction. That ruling was recently overturned by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and sent back to the district court.
According to Richard Thompson, an aide for state Sen. Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford), a new bill will be introduced in the Massachusetts Senate to tighten the regulations.
The escort tug Canal Deluge follows Seaboats’ 80,000-barrel double-hull barge Patriot as it nears the Cape Cod Canal after crossing Buzzards Bay. The barge is being pushed by the tug Donald C from its position in the notch. (Clark Snow)
Massachusetts passed its law regulating shipping in the bay following the April 27, 2003 spill from an oil barge that released approximately 98,000 gallons of fuel oil into the bay and contaminated more than 100 miles of shoreline.
The state law was endorsed by environmentalists as tougher than the federal regulations that were proposed at the time. The state law includes minimum requirements for watch and crew staffing and an escort tugboat for all tank barges, both single- and double-hull.
The federal government contends that the new Coast Guard regulations will “provide a sufficient measure of safety against spills” in the bay.
By Professional Mariner Staff