Rep. Michelle Steel calls for ban on ships anchoring off Orange County
Under pressure to react to the recent oil spill off her House district’s shore line, Rep. Michelle Steel on Tuesday proposed a temporary ban on ships idling along the coast, citing initial reports that an anchor may have dislodged the failed pipeline.
“This crisis could have been prevented and it’s important that we protect our waters and coastline,” said Steel, R-Seal Beach, whose 48th District includes much of coastal Orange County.
Maritime experts say Steel’s proposal could lead to increased costs and delays for shipping companies, more air pollution and a greater risk of offshore accidents.
Steel’s Stopping Hazardous Incidents in the Pacific Act of 2021, or SHIP Act, would ban cargo idling or anchoring within 24 nautical miles from the Orange County coast. The ban would take effect immediately and last “up to 180 days,” or until President Joe Biden declares an end to a port backlog that’s stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic and caused a spike in ships waiting offshore.
When asked where ships would anchor, Steel’s spokeswoman Danielle Stewart said via email, “Anywhere that is not coastal Orange County.”
If ships aren’t allowed to anchor or idle within 24 miles of coastline, they likely would be drifting or moving at very slow speeds in unsheltered waters further out, said Steven D. Browne, professor of Marine Transportation at Cal State’s Maritime Academy in Vallejo.
“In good weather this would probably not be a significant issue, though the ships would likely be burning more fuel and emitting more exhaust gases when operating offshore than they would if they were at anchor,” Browne said. “In rough weather, the ships would most likely need to increase speed in order to ride the waves better and to avoid drifting significant distances from the ports.”
Ship traffic is well regulated and monitored close to the ports, Browne noted, with designated traffic lanes, anchorages and radio reporting points.
“There is no traffic system further off the coast,” he said. “It might be a bit chaotic as ships choose whatever location their captains deem best. As a result, there could still be significant congestion issues, but in less regulated areas.”
Either way, Browne said, “It is hard to know if a ban such as this would have prevented the oil spill because we don’t yet know the…