fact that jettison is a seldom-used salvage option does not lessen the potential catastrophe that can devolve on the one occasion that jettison is needed and cannot be employed.
Despite all our best intentions, desires, and efforts, we cannot legislate or regulate marine casualties out of existence. I am reminded of the cartoon which shows a father on his knees changing a fiat tire at night in the rain. Looking up at his son in the car and responding to a question, the father replies, "We can't change channels, son, this is life."
Part of being prepared is to make whatever decisions we can ahead of time. Thus made, those decisions will not then have to be made under the stress of the event. The determination that jettison is, in theory, legally permissible, is one of those decisions. Deciding whether to jettison in a particular case must be made on site, at the time, in light of the current situation. But that decision to actually perform the jettison must be made quickly or it will be too late, as demonstrated in the ST Arrow case referred to by Mr. Ellis and in the Argo Merchant case. Hence, the need for planning and for establishing criteria, parameters, and the decision path in advance.
I have no commercial stake in this issue. However, I can see myself either supporting the Coast Guard or attending a Navy casualty, in charge of a salvage effort and faced with the same kind of situation as those attending the Argo Merchant. The penalties and sanctions now in place for oil discharge put the salvor in an untenable position. If, in the time available, jettison is the only way to refloat a vessel that may otherwise be lost, why should a salvor expose himself to significant liability by jettisoning? Recall that commercial salvage is voluntary. Most salvors are not voluntarily going to subject themselves to the liability created by the present legal framework. It now appears that in certain specific situations, the OPA 90 blanket prohibition of discharge has resulted in greater hazard to the environment than under prior law.
The Navy has worked with the Marine Board to initiate this symposium and to gather as wide a range of marine interests as possible. What we seek in this forum is confirmation of historical precedent, intuitive logic, and common sense:
That in certain specific emergencies, jettison of a relatively small portion of oil is necessary to prevent greater environmental damage.
That responsible preparedness requires specific provision for this action in law and/or regulation, that the provision be carefully considered and circumscribed, and that the designated decision path be streamlined enough to support real-time action.
That this recommendation be positive, clear, and unambiguous.
Captain Richard Fiske is the Director of Ocean Engineering, Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, U.S. Navy. He has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of California and a Master of Arts in Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.