Tanker traffic shut down for ice

Posted: Thursday, March 06, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Coast Guard shut down oil tanker traffic in Prince William Sound for eight hours Tuesday morning after new ice radar detected ''wall-to-wall'' ice in shipping lanes during a dark, foggy night.

The closure, which began at 2 a.m., marked the first time that icebergs from disintegrating Columbia Glacier plugged tanker routes since the unique monitoring system began sending scans to the Coast Guard and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. in November.

The system, still undergoing testing, provided vivid detail of bergs and bits drifting between Point Freemantle and Reef Island, Coast Guard and Alyeska officials said Wednesday.

''It almost looked like you could walk across it,'' said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Darrell Wilson. ''A (tug boat) skipper told them it was literally wall-to-wall ice.''

Two loaded oil tankers remained at the Valdez terminal until a helicopter from Alyeska's Ship Escort/Response Vessel System confirmed that the ice had dispersed and the Coast Guard reopened the lanes about 10 a.m.

''We're still fine-tuning the system, but from everything they say, it looks really good,'' said Alyeska spokesman Mike Heatwole.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council organized the ice radar project in the 1990s after an empty inbound tanker smashed into a berg and sustained about $1 million in damage. The Exxon Valdez was trying to avoid reported ice when it struck Bligh Reef and dumped 11 million gallons into the Sound in 1989.

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