Capt. Ricardo Alonso, chief of the Office of Marine Environmental Response Policy at Coast Guard Headquarters, came together with industry oil spill response and salvage experts April 3, 2019 for a panel session titled, “An accident, a grounding, a collision, oil in the water, fire, people missing, news helicopters overhead – this is the stuff of nightmares” during CMA’s Shipping Conference 2019, in Stamford, Connecticut.
Capt. Peter Swift, general manager of the Maritime Industry Foundation, moderated the session. The other experts joining Alonso on the panel were: Lindsay Malen-Habib, RESOLVE Marine Group; Michael Minogue, ECM Maritime Services, LLC; David Barry, Gallagher Marine Group; Jim Elliott, Teichman Group and President of American Salvage Association; Alfred Kuffler, the lawfirm Montgomery McCracken; and Darrell Wilson, MTI Network.
Swift led panelists through a fictional oil spill and marine casualty scenario staged in the Houston Ship Channel and each participant discussed, from their particular area of expertise, how they would handle the incident at three different phases: 1) initial notification and surge operations, 2) short term recovery operations, and 3) steady state operations.
Alonso focused on the role of the Coast Guard Federal On Scene Coordinator within the Incident Command System Unified Command construct, as well as the importance of Vessel Response Plan activation.
“As soon as we find out about an incident, we’re going to ask you if the VRP was activated and what resources are available,” Alonso said. “In the early stages, we’re not looking to assign blame. Safety of life is the most important at this point – of the workers, the mariners, and the community, followed by securing the source, and protection of the environment and property.”
Alonso stressed that it is critical for responders to bring all available resources to bear in the early stages of a response.
“It’s better to roll it back if you don’t need it, than to not have some vital resource at hand that can make all the difference early on,” he said, adding that it’s important to pre-plan and be familiar with other response organizations in the area.
“If you do any business in the U.S., you need to know who your port partners are,” Alonso said. “This makes it easier for everyone who will potentially be affected to jump in and start implementing the Area Contingency Plan.”
In response to a question from the audience, Alonso acknowledged that for someone not familiar with the Incident Command System, which is the emergency management system used by the Coast Guard and many local, state, and federal response organizations, it may seem impossible that just a relatively few number of people can effectively handle an emergency like an oil spill.
“You need to use a process that includes a whole choreography of the missions,” Alonso said. “Have teams of specialists who can focus on all the different aspects of the response.”
Other topics discussed during a Q&A with the attendees included salvage operations, VRP activation, media engagement, elements of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, limits of financial liability, spill response exercise requirements, and salvage and marine firefighting regulations.
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