Emergency Response Towing Vessel (ERTV)

Last updated 05/11/2016

To help protect Washington’s shorelines and waterways, the Washington State maritime industry has permanently stationed an emergency response towing vessel (ERTV) in Neah Bay. The tug is an important safety net to prevent disabled ships and barges from grounding off our outer coast or in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. An oil spill in this area would pose a substantial threat to Puget Sound’s environment, economy, and culture.

View an interactive map of ERTV deployments

Since 1999, the tug has deployed to stand by or directly assist 54 vessels that were either completely disabled or had reduced maneuvering ability. Vessels that have required assistance include deep draft cargo vessels, large fishing and fish processing vessels, fully laden oil and chemical tank ships, and tugs with tank barges in tow. On 14 of these responses the tug had to take the disabled vessels in tow to prevent them from drifting onto the rocks and spilling oil. The actions taken in those 14 cases helped prevent a combined spill potential of over 3 million gallons of oil.

Funding for the Neah Bay tug is managed by the Marine Exchange of Puget Sound, an operating association that provides communications and information services to its members and to government agencies. To ensure industry-funded standby towing capability, the maritime shipping industry has contracted a vessel under charter to the Marine Exchange to be stationed at Neah Bay. As required by statute, the U.S. Coast Guard and Ecology may also independently contract for the services of the ERTV stationed at Neah Bay to respond to an emerging maritime casualty, or as a precautionary measure.

History of the ERTV

The Neah Bay ERTV was initially established through the U.S. Navy, in 1999, by U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks. The Makah Nation, whose reservation includes the town of Neah Bay, provided some initial funding in 2000 through its settlement payment from the 1991 Tenyo Maru oil spill. After this initial investment of funds, the State of Washington assumed exclusive financial responsibility for the tug. During the first few years of service, there was only enough funding to station a tug at the entrance of the Strait during the winter months when the weather and sea conditions posed the largest threat. However, after July 1, 2008 the state paid to station the ERTV in Neah Bay year-round at a cost of $3.6 million per year.

In order to ensure the permanent protection of the Olympic Peninsula and Washington’s outer coast, and to shift the financial burden of the ERTV program from the taxpayers to the maritime industry, State Representative Kevin Van De Wege and Senator Kevin Ranker sponsored a bill that obligated the maritime industry to assume financial responsibility for the ERTV effective July, 2010. It was signed by Governor Chris Gregoire in 2009.

On July 1, 2010, the state-funded tug departed from Neah Bay, to be replaced by the tug contracted to the maritime industry through the Marine Exchange of Puget Sound. The petroleum industry pays 57% of the cost to keep the tug, while cargo and passenger ships pay the remaining 43%.

For tank vessels of any size and other commercial vessels greater than 300 gross tons that transit the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Neah Bay tug must also be incorporated into their oil spill contingency plans required by the State of Washington. This means including a detailed description of the emergency response tug system, notification process, and a commitment to include the ERTV in oil spill response drills and to submit a report to Ecology whenever the ERTV is deployed.

The Jeffrey Foss stationed at Neah Bay.
Photo taken by Mark Crawford - MaritimeTraffic.com

ERTV deployments: 57
Spills avoided: 18,677,954 gallons


Click here for tug enrollment information, information on how to call out the ERTV for assistance, and what to do once you have had an incident requiring tug assistance.


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