In response to a 2010 mandate from Congress, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced a specifically-designed Risk Assessment for Potentially Polluting Wrecks in U.S. Waters that was then provided to the U. S. Coast Guard (USCG). A total of 87 risk assessments were presented to the USCG for inclusion into Area Contingency Plans required for all coastal, marine and Great Lakes waters in the U.S. under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (33 U.S. Code § 1321) in May 2013. USCG relies on NOAA for expertise in response and contingency planning and as a resource trustee for both natural resources and underwater cultural heritage. The USCG has used the RULET assessments to foster dialogue with both the potentially affected public and responders and to start thinking through general issues associated with shipwrecks that may have historical significance in additional to being potential pollution hazards.
Over the past three years, several surveys of opportunity have provided an opportunity for concurrent assessments of historical and cultural significance and site-specific assessment of pollution potential. Several wrecks have been downgraded in terms of their risk, one has been remediated, one patched (FERNSTREAM, USNS MISSION SAN MIGUEL.). Surveillance and monitoring efforts have provided additional insight to specific wrecks and even helped identify wrecks that were excluded from the assessment (COIMBRA, W.E. HUTTON, USS MURPHY). Surveys have moved two wrecks across international boundaries (or rather provided new locations for TB ARGO and MV COAST TRADER.) In-water assessments have lead to unexpected pollution response challenges, such as those associated with the TB ARGO. As salvage and response technologies develop and additional surveys of opportunity take place the new information provides for continued refinement of the contingency plans and protects our environmental and economic resources along the coast. This paper will provide an evaluation and an update as to the overall effectiveness of this assessment effort to date.
Activities since 2013 have significantly moved forward the understanding and engagement on the issue by responders, trustees and the public regarding potentially polluting wrecks in U.S. waters and have provided insight to other jurisdictions dealing with similar challenges.