From the Editor's Desk / Readers respond to why the San Juans need a rescue tug - Salish Current
March 19, 2021
From the Editor’s Desk / Readers respond to why the San Juans need a rescue tug
Mike Sato
March 19, 2021
From the Editor’s Desk / Readers respond to why the San Juans need a rescue tug
Mike Sato


Lopez Island readers of the article “Rescue tug stationed in islands is best bet to avoid oil spills in San Juan-Gulf waters, study says” responded to the article’s posting in Lopez Rocks (edited here for clarity). (Editor’s Note: Our original post was updated with an additional comment after publication.)

Writing’s on the wall

I believe this is a no-brainer! The writing’s on the wall. I’m personally astonished there’s not an ERTV nearby. There should be two, a backup and or team effort between 🇨🇦 and 🇺🇸. Also in my humble opinion hundreds of thousands spent on the research for this project could have been put toward these vessels.

  — Ben, Jenn June and Nico Greenberg, March 14, 2021

Stop shipping it here

The single best way to prevent oil spills here is to stop the insane practice of shipping it through here in the first place. Tanker traffic in the Salish will increase by 700% if proposed pipelines (mentioned in the article) are built! The Salish Sea has been described as the most complicated waterway on Earth; we don’t need to be weaving tankers through here ever. And San Juan County assumes all of the risk of a spill and no economic benefit whatsoever from the industry.

Calling what they would be shipping “oil” is a bit of a misnomer as well. It’s tar sands diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit. DilBit is a tarry substance (bitumen) diluted with benzene so that it can flow in pipelines. Benzene is a hyper-poisonous substance that turns into a gas when released into the atmosphere. The fumes are very deadly and necessitate an immediate evacuation of all rescue personnel, not to mention the population in that area. This means after a spill it will continue on unabated without people able to even try and stop it for some time: literally an unmitigated disaster. Add to that that bitumen sinks and oil spill clean-up technologies are all made to clean floating oil off the surface of the water. There is no way to clean a sea bottom layered in tar.

A big spill here would kill San Juan County and the Sea.

That said we absolutely need all the oil spill prevention and clean-up gear and personnel here that can be had. And the industry needs to pay for it 100%.

Do everything you can to support and volunteer for IOSA. And fight tooth and nail to keep those pipelines from pumping that stuff to the Salish in the first place.

 — Nathan Donnelly, March 16, 2021

Endless possibilities for conflicts

Absolutely true.

These waters are full of small boats. Endless possibilities for conflicts. The noise from the tanker props is a major source of problems for the orcas. All this talk of mitigation and rescue tugs and spill cleanup is just nonsense. Once it’s done, it’s all over.

And just who and whose insurance policy is going to buy my property when one of the most valuable things I came here for is the marine ecology and all of a sudden it’s coated with gunk?

I don’t want to hear a peep about how we “need the oil.” B.S. That oil is going overseas and the only people who will make a penny off of it will be multinationals ….

 — Mike Colyar, March 16, 2021

Article does not mention escort tug practice

The Salish Current article does not mention the present practice of escort tugs for tankers. These tugs are far better than a stationed rescue tug because they are on the spot if a ship has problems. Tankers with cargo in their tanks transiting Haro Strait or Rosario Strait are required to have a “tethered” escort tug. The tug has a towline attached to the stern of the ship, and the tug follows along close astern. Thus if the ship loses power or steering the tug can stop the ship or steer her.

The list of requirements for escort tugs and many other details pertaining to tanker movements can be read online: Pacific Pilotage Authority (Canadian), Washington State RCW 88.16.190, Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee. Or search Rosario Strait escort tugs or Haro Strait escort tugs. The Pacific Pilotage Authority rules are the clearest and most concise to read.

In the Salish Current article, the idea of a rescue tug with two-hour response time is absurd. In these confined waters a ship with power failure could be in trouble in just minutes. This is why the ships have escort tugs, and why the towline is attached.

I ride these tankers occasionally as the ship’s compass adjuster and have always been impressed with the competence and skill of the pilots and tugboat men.

— Keith Sternberg, March 19, 2021

Editors note: Mr. Sternberg’s reference is to a Pacific Pilotage Authority directive “Escort tug rules for ships carrying liquids in bulk” issued Nov. 5, 2019.

Container ships and others also at risk

Tug escorts for laden tankers are essential. However, tankers are not the only large commercial vessels with accident and oil spill risk. For example, container ships don’t have tug escorts and they carry between 1.5 million and 4.5 million gallons of propulsion fuel.

I recommend watching the presentation that’s referenced in the Salish Current article, and reading the Vessel Drift and Response Analysis when it’s finalized. For more information go to the SJC MRC (San Juan County Marine Resources Committee) oil spill prevention webpage.

— Lovel Pratt, Friends of the San Juans, March 19, 2021

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in the Salish Current. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato ( and he will respond with guidelines.

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