News | November 30, 2017

Is Alaska's Prince William Sound At Risk? Alyeska Pipeline Services Company In A Cost-Cutting Move Is Changing The Way Oil Tankers Are Escorted

Mariners and Citizens Advisory Council in objections filed with state authorities detail proposed contractor Edison Chouest’s incompetence in Alaskan waters, criminal negligence in Antarctica, and lack of experience. Maritime unions call for public hearings on changes to tanker escort and oil spill response.

Experience counts and should be considered when choosing a company responsible for guiding tankers through Prince William Sound and also taken into consideration should be any record of negligence, say unions representing mariners. In comments filed with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), made public for the first time recently, the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots and the Inlandboatmen’s Union detail findings of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Justice that show a record of incompetence and criminal negligence by Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO), the contactor slated to begin tanker escort and oil spill response in Prince William Sound – if approved by state regulators.

“We are deeply concerned,” the two unions stated in a letter and related documents filed with the Department of Conservation, “that the Prince William Sound Response Planning Group is cutting corners and putting the fragile environment of the Prince William Sound at risk by replacing an experienced oil spill response contractor – Crowley Maritime Corporation – with an inexperienced one: Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO).”

MM&P and IBU are calling for a public hearing before any changes are approved in oil spill response and tanker escort.

“Mariners in Prince William Sound deal with some of the trickiest wind and sea conditions in North America. Time in a simulator or classroom can only take you so far. Local knowledge is a key difference between success and failure, and rather than hire tested Alaskan mariners, ECO, a company with a sorry record in Alaska, plans to bring in workers from the Gulf inexperienced in these waters,” said Alan Cote’, the president of the Inlandboatmen’s Union.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council also has called attention to the need for trained, experienced mariners to handle operations in Prince William Sound, a unique environment where severe weather conditions are a regular occurrence. “That questionable factor is always going to be people,” Council spokesperson Brooke Taylor recently told Alaska Public Radio. “If they’re not properly trained, if they are not accustomed to a new environment, then you’re going to have a weak link in the system and that’s where most accidents are going to be triggered from.”

The Citizens’ Advisory Council commissioned a report that raised questions about how any new mariners working on tanker escort and oil spill response should be trained. Rather than sunny calm summer sailing in July 2018 as currently planned, the RCAC report says ECO’s mariners should be tested in “90th percentile conditions.” In Prince William Sound, that translates to 22-knot winds and/or 12-foot seas.

The RCAC is an independent entity created by Congress to monitor Alaskan waters following the tragic Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

Alyeska is proposing to hire ECO to carry out critical safety and emergency response functions in Prince William Sound. But ECO has already damaged Alaska’s maritime industry and environment by letting the Kulluk oil rig run aground in 2012. The U.S. Coast Guard found ECO at fault for the incident through a combination of poor ship design, incompetent operations, and negligence by key personnel.

Additionally, ECO was found to be criminally negligent and was required to pay criminal penalties of $2.1M for illegally dumping waste oil into the protected waters of the Antarctic. ECO subsidiary, Offshore Vessels, had been contracted to operate the Lawrence Gould (R/V Gould), an ice-breaking vessel used for research expeditions for the U.S. National Science Foundation. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, OSV admitted that crewmembers knowingly discharged oily wastewater, a violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The indictment and guilty plea followed an investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service.

“Crowley has kept the Sound safe for a quarter of a century,” said Don Marcus, president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. “Recently, terminal workers in Valdez made a mistake resulting in 400 gallons of oil spilling into the Sound. Crowley workers were quickly there and contained the spill before any real damage was done. Next time the spill might be larger and the result may be different because a change in contractors creates an unnecessary risk. A risk that should be avoided.”

Other significant issues raised by the MM&P and the IBU in their comments to the ADEC relate to “substantial” design flaws in ECO vessels; insufficient training and inefficient scheduling of maritime crews; inadequate – or non-existent – planning for a transition between Crowley Maritime and Edison Chouest; and a lack of transparency about what has – or has not – been done to ensure protection of the precious maritime resources of Prince William Sound.

“If members of the Response Planning Group believe Edison Chouest is actually qualified for this critical task,” Marcus and Cote’ state in their letter to ADEC, “they should be required to present their case at a public hearing.”

For more information on the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, please visit

For more information about the Inlandboatmen’s Union, please visit

Source: International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots and The Inlandboatmen's Union