NOAA warns large ships to avoid sanctuary

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking ships of 400 gross tons or greater to stay farther away voluntarily from part of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary when traveling along the coast to protect the area from possible oil spills.

The “area to be avoided,” known as an ATBA, extends as far as 25 nautical miles (28.7 miles) west of the coast from Tatoosh Island at the north to Pacific Beach State Park to the south.

It was developed by NOAA and the Coast Guard when the sanctuary — which includes 2,408 square nautical miles (2,771 square miles) of marine waters off the Olympic Peninsula Pacific Coast — was established in 1994 to reduce the risk of a shipwreck and resulting pollution to the sanctuary.

The ATBA has been marked on nautical charts since then, and vessels greater than 1,600 gross tons were asked to avoid the area.

Since Dec. 1, smaller ships also have been asked to find another route to travel south in the Pacific Ocean from the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“The consequences of an oil spill can be devastating to the environment and regional economy, and the maritime industry recognizes that supporting such precautions is good for their business as well as the environment,” said Carol Bernthal, superintendent of NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, which is based in Port Angeles.

In the years since the ATBA was adopted, 99 percent of the nearly 9,000 ships that pass through the region annually have complied with the boundaries, said George Galasso, assistant sanctuary superintendent.

Ships greater than 400 gross tons are required to prepare oil spill response plans because of the large amounts of fuel they carry, Galasso said.

Most of that oil is for their own use, such as fuel oil for propulsion, but is enough to damage the sanctuary in the event of a wreck.

According to the new rules, the voluntary avoidance area does not apply to fishing vessels, research vessels and naval ships that are taking part in activities allowed in the area.

The International Maritime Organization adopted the revised ATBA for charts used by the international shipping industry, while the Coast Guard is working with NOAA to have these changes added to nautical charts and included in the U.S. Coast Pilot.

Compliance with the ATBA will be monitored by the sanctuary and the U.S. and Canadian coast guards, which work together to manage the shipping lanes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is dissected by the international border.

The sanctuary, in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, will continue an education and outreach campaign to the maritime industry, distributing informational charts and informing ship owners when their vessels enter the area, Galasso said.

For more information, visit

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at

Last modified: December 24. 2012 5:52PM
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