Can Aleutians shipping 'pinch point' handle 220 more supertankers a year?

September 18, 2012 

Hydrographers working for TerraSond Ltd. discovered the sunken Korean freighter M/V Pan Nova about 300 feet deep in Unimak Pass, near Dutch Harbor, while mapping the sea floor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2007. The freighter carrying wheat sank after colliding with another Korean freight vessel in 1983.

TERRASOND LTD. PHOTO

Big-ship traffic on the high seas can be heavy -- even in the Aleutian Islands. Some people fear it will become a permanent rush hour there if a controversial pipeline is built from the Alberta tarsands to a proposed tanker terminal on the British Columbia coast. Up to 220 additional supertankers could be added to Great Circle Route shipping lanes that link North America and Asia, and one of those lanes threads through the "pinch point" of Unimak Pass in the eastern Aleutians. The Anchorage Press revisits past shipping calamities in the area and wonders about the likelihood of an increase in shipwrecks if the pipeline is built.

The National Transportation Research Board report on risks in the Aleutians that followed the 2004 Selendang Ayu accident describes Unimak Pass itself as fairly easy to navigate. ... The major risks are associated with the remoteness of the region and the lack of access to response equipment.

The only accident prevention tools are emergency towing systems, which consist of large boxes filled with heavy ropes and a lighted buoy that can be used to attach tugs to boats that are in trouble. The systems are stationed around the region and some can be sent to the distressed vessels via helicopter. The City of Unalaska and the Coast Guard test the packages every year, but they only work if there is an appropriately sized tugboat in the area to help assist, as was the case with the Golden Seas.

Read more in the Anchorage Press: Perilous Passage: A Canadian pipeline could increase traffic in treacherous Alaska waters

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