whose implementation could simultaneously enhance the risk assessment process and contribute to safer shipping operations.
Central to the public concern about improving the safety of shipping in the Aleutian Islands are the unique and valuable natural resources in the region that could suffer damage from shipping accidents. The region also is subject to frequent and sudden storms, high winds, and severe sea conditions that create operational challenges for all mariners. History has shown that spills in the Aleutians have been geographically widespread and that efforts to recover the oil have been ineffective.
In its review of existing data on the Aleutians and their environment, the committee found that the area is home to globally unique natural resources. The vast diversity of species over an expansive region is well documented, and most of the Aleutian Island chain has been designated as a national wildlife refuge. Few marine areas in the world match the Aleutians in marine productivity, and Dutch Harbor is the leading fishing port in the United States in terms of volume. The economy of the Aleutians relies on the fishing industry, which accounts for more than 80 percent of private-sector employment.
Large commercial vessels engage in the substantial and growing maritime trade between northwestern North America and northern Asia traveling the North Pacific Great Circle Route, which traverses the Aleutian Islands. About 4,500 ships transit Unimak Pass annually, averaging 12 per day, and a similar number travel just south of the Aleutians annually as well. This number represents a significant increase in just the 2 years since the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation published a report on vessel traffic through Unimak Pass, in which it was estimated that 3,100 ships per year passed westbound through the Aleutians. The ship traffic in the region comprises a mix of large containerships, bulk carriers, car carriers, tankers, and others—most of which are foreign-flagged and on innocent passage through these waters. These vessels carry large quantities of fuel oil and various cargoes, including