Commercial ships are using Point Mugu to bypass 24 mile zone
California authorities and eagle-eyed pollution fighters are finding that the law of unintended consequences is hammering home with its usual unintended force on the West Coast. Specifically, in the case of the new low sulfur regulations (See Blog for September 25).
The mighty US Navy is being caught up, in the shape of the Point Mugu missile test range, partsa of which lie inside the 24 nautical mile limit for switching to low sulfur. Geography plays a part, as the range borders what are collectively known as the Channel Islands, which are the boundary of the Santa Barbara Channel, the main gateway to Los Angeles and Long Beach.
More vessels are now going through the range to avoid having to switch to low sulfur for as long as possible, and this is making the navy worried. Before the new fuel regulations were introduced, ships bypassed the range, for obvious reasons.
At latest count, 40 percent of traffic bound for and coming from the two ports is using the missile range, which, for legal reasons, is kept open to commercial shipping.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) blithely assumed that there would be no difficulties when the fuel requirements were brought in and promised to work with the Navy and everyone else to make sure there was no disruption.
Unfortunately, a second problem is steaming over the horizon. CARB also wants to introduce a compulsory 12 knot speed limit within 24 nautical miles (to cut down on pollution) and the Navy says it is "very concerned" because it would mean even more reason for ships to go through the range.
The Navy has officially, politely asked California to make a special case by including the range in the slow speed zone. "…voluntary and cooperative efforts between the ports… and the shipping industry could go a long way towards achieving all of our goals and should be vigorously considered." The tone is clear –"deal with it or we will get on the case and get it dealt with."
How this will be done is possibly by gingering up the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is already working on a joint proposal with the International Maritime Organization for an Emission Control Area surrounding Canada and the US, extending for 200 nautical miles. Not that such a radical step will be taken immediately (the regulation is due to be in place in 2015), but the Navy is hinting that it might get the feds to bring in a rule that shoves aside California and makes sure that the missile range is made an exclusion zone.