ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A pair of new emergency response barges has arrived in Southeast Alaska, meaning sea lion rookeries and shore bird nesting sites in Glacier Bay National Park will gain some protection from fuel spills.
The barges were donated by the North West CruiseShip Association, and they're tied up at the National Park Service headquarters at Bartlett Cove.
They are said to be the first of their kind in the Panhandle, a region that draws more than 600,000 cruise passengers a year.
The barges arrived Friday in Juneau and are the first of four sets paid for by the association, which represents Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and six other lines.
The other barges will arrive throughout the summer in sets of two, and will be located at Haines, Juneau and Ketchikan.
The 40-foot aluminum barges can scoop up and store 10,458 gallons of fuel apiece, said Chuck Young, acting chief ranger at Glacier Bay National Park.
The $1.3 million investment will provide a good first response in a region that has minimal oil spill response equipment, Coast Guard Cmdr. Rob Lorigan said.
Southeast Alaska draws heavy cruise traffic and has seen at least six cruise ship accidents involving fuel spills since 1981, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Some people contend that the response barges are not enough and that cruise ships should be required to have oil spill contingency plans like those required of fuel barges or fuel storage tanks.
''It's like designing a house. You need a lot of tools to build a house, but you also need a good set of blueprints. That's the thing that's missing here,'' said Kurt Fredriksson, DEC deputy commissioner.
The cruise lines say their ships have oil spill response plans, even though they're not required.
Fredriksson said the DEC wants all large vessels to be required to have the same type of state-approved oil spill contingency plans as the petroleum industry. The plans spell out what a ship would do in an accident and allow the state to know who is doing what.
''It's a matter of do you just go down to the dock and ask for a show of hands as to who's available or do you set up contracts ahead of time and have vessels on-call,'' Fredriksson told the Anchorage Daily News.
The agency was disappointed that legislation sponsored by state Senate President Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage, was watered down to remove the planning requirement, he said.
Under the House version of the bill that eventually was passed by the Legislature this session, owners of vessels weighing more than 400 gross tons must show they are financially capable of responding to a spill.
The industry is doing more than simply providing the response barges, said Lana Johnson of Northwest Strategies, an Anchorage firm representing the cruise industry.
Negotiations among the industry and the DEC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard about cruise ship-related pollution matters are continuing, she said.
A draft report is due out Wednesday outlining steps the industry will voluntarily take this summer to prove to the public that its ships are not breaking environmental laws.
The talks were prompted by two high-profile criminal cases involving illegal dumping in the Inside Passage by Royal Caribbean and Holland America in the mid-1990s. Both companies have said those practices were stopped.
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