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Coast Guard scouts oil trade's 'dogs.' (Coast Guard increasing efforts to police oil tankers) (Brief Article)

On July 21, 1991, the Kirki, a Greek-registered tanker, encountered gale-force winds while carrying 82,600 tons of oil from the Persian Gulf to Australia. Before long, its bow broke away and sank, fires erupted, oil began to leak into the sea, and the crew abandoned ship. Members of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) were shocked to see what awaited them when they arrived to secure and unload the remaining oil from the vessel, then drifting off Australia's coast.

Only 22 years old, the Kirki had seen six owners and little maintenance. "The deck's thickness in the area of the forepeak had literally rusted to the thickness of a razor blade," reports Donald Brodie, then AMSAs technical adviser on marine pollution and coordinator of Australia's federal effort to stabilize the ship. Ragged, gaping holes in manhole covers to the ballast tank had been covered with canvas and painted to match the adjacent metal. Indeed, Brodie told SCIENCE NEWS, "there was a lot of paint on that ship- more paint than metal."

Though Australia maintains a tanker surveillance program, "some vessels escape the net," Brodie acknowledges, because "we don't have the resources to go on board and use a hammer on every ship and make sure it's in sound condition."

That should be the role of owners, insurers, and organizations that certify seaworthiness, contends Coast Guard Rear Adm. Arthur E. Henn of Washington, D.C. But many of these parties have abdicated their safety responsibilities in recent years, Henn says. In response, the U.S. Coast Guard is stepping up its policing of ships, he adds. New rules and stricter enforcement of existing safety standards will make it harder for what he calls the "dogs" of the petroleum trade -- rust buckets like the Kirki- to enter U.S. ports. Even if most other nations don't follow suit (though Henn suspects they will), many of these tankers will be repaired or retired, he says. After all, "the United States is the world's biggest customer," he notes. "Where are they going to go?"
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 17, 1993
Words:341
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