Following recommendations of federal investigators who looked into the wreck of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez, the Coast Guard has installed a radar system capable of seeing to Bligh Reef and beyond.
Coast Guard Chief Rick Clapp said the new tracking system was installed in October at Potato Point.
The radar antenna is aimed down Valdez Arm and was chosen because it has the best line of sight for tracking Prince William Sound tankers.
Depending on humidity, temperature and other conditions, the new radar can see between 5 and 10 miles past Bligh Reef.
The charted, underwater navigational hazard was the site of the Exxon Valdez grounding March 24, 1989.
More than 10 million gallons of waxy North Slope crude seeped from the vessel's damaged hull, causing the nation's worst oil spill.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators later recommended that additional radar sites be installed around the Sound since the Coast Guard said existing radar was unable to track the Exxon Valdez all the way to Bligh Reef, about 25 miles due south of the port of Valdez.
The Valdez vessel-tracking center relied instead on regular reports from the tanker captains themselves.
Clapp said the new radar installation was a direct result of the NTSB recommendation. "But nobody can say it would have helped prevent the accident," he said.
New radar, which operates on a 3-centimeter band and is called s-band radar, replaces one of the two x-band radar antennas that were installed at Potato Point.
X-band refers to 10-centimeter radar. Clapp said although s-band radar could see farther it did not see as clearly as x-band radar.
"The s-band would be used primarily to pick up things at long range," he said.
"For close details, say like watching a tanker go through the (Valdez) Narrows, x-band would do that."
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