Bligh Reef strikes again

When I first heard that the Pathfinder, a Crowley Maritime tanker escort tug, ran aground on Bligh Reef on Dec. 23 and spilled thousands of gallons of diesel fuel into Prince William Sound, I thought:

What the hell? Over.

How does a tug that is specifically tasked with keeping tankers off Bligh Reef and other local hazards run smack dab into the thing? It’s not like people don’t know where the reef is. It’s not like it’s not marked. It hasn’t moved.

Like most groundings, it must be “operator error.” Somebody screwed up. Real bad.

Well, pretty bad. The good news is that the spill was just diesel fuel, which evaporates quickly and doesn’t have the toxic effects of crude oil, and no one was injured or killed.

And Crowley recently renewed its contract for tanker escorts and docking services in Prince William Sound, so it doesn’t look like there will be any serious business repercussions. At least not immediately.

But just as the more famous Bligh Reef accident set enormous regulatory changes in motion, maybe this incident will be used as a push for double-walled fuel tanks. Some operators already foresee this eventuality and have been adding the extra protection to newbuilds.

Maybe Crowley will too.

About the author

Bruce Buls

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).

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