When a damaged vessel is leaking oil and there is significant risk of further release, spill responders often consider towing the vessel into a harbor of refuge in order to protect it from rough seas and thus prevent a catastrophic discharge of oil, or out to sea to protect the coastline. This paper reviews three cases on the west coast of North America where vessels were towed out to sea (the Puerto Rican, Nestucca, New Carissa). Using actual spill data and modeled trajectories, the environmental impacts associated with towing are compared to the likely environmental impacts that would have occurred with alternative scenaríos. We conclude that, in at least two of these cases, the environmental impacts may have been magnified as a direct result of towing the vessel. Thus, when towing damaged vessels, the environmental risks and tradeoffs should be carefully evaluated.

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