Rescue tug to be stationed year round at entrance to Strait of Juan de Fuca

A state-funded emergency response tug based in Neah Bay, Wash., is now standing by 365 days a year to assist vessels and help prevent oil spills in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the Washington coast.

Continuous service began July 1. Since 1999, a state-funded response tug has been stationed in Neah Bay to help disabled ships and prevent groundings that might result in oil spills. Funding for the service had been limited to the winter, however, when severe weather places vessels at greater risk.

Crowley’s Gladiator, a 136-foot, 7,200-hp Invader class tug, will be assigned as the Neah Bay rescue tug. Hunter, another Crowley Invader class tug, has been on station this summer, but will be replaced by Gladiator when it completes its current assignments.  (Photo courtesy Crowley Maritime)

The extension of service follows the state’s 2008 legislative session, when lawmakers approved $3.7 million for the oceangoing tug and directed the state Department of Ecology to establish year-round coverage.

The contract between the state and Crowley Maritime Corp. extends a previous agreement. Crowley had been paid $8,500 per day plus fuel for the service; the new budget provides $10,000 per day plus fuel.

“The current state level of funding is enough to keep the tug at Neah Bay for a year, until a permanent, stable funding source can be established,” said state Sen. Harriet Spanel, D-Bellingham, a strong advocate for emergency response tugs.

A separate agreement between the state and the Makah Indian tribe will provide for upgraded dockside electrical power and other infrastructure improvements.

“By providing power at the dock, we’ll be able to minimize fuel costs for the tug,” said Dale Jensen, spills program manager for the Department of Ecology. “It will also reduce the carbon footprint for the tug since Crowley won’t have to fuel and run standby generators when the vessel is docked.”

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is one of the busiest shipping lanes on the West Coast, with nearly 9,000 cargo ships and petroleum tankers transiting yearly. The strait is bordered by Olympic National Park, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and three national wildlife refuges, sensitive areas directly at risk for major oil spills. Since 1999, when the first standby tug was contracted, there have been 40 requests for assistance during the winter.

During the winter of 2007-08, the tug was called out six times to assist vessels in distress. There were also at least 18 incidents that occurred off-season when the tug was not available, according to the Department of Ecology.

Crowley began service July 1 at Neah Bay with Hunter, which will be replaced by Gladiator when that vessel completes its current assignments. Both are 136-foot, 7,200-horsepower Invader class tugs.

By Professional Mariner Staff