Feinstein introduces bill for ship standards

The proposed law comes in response to November's more than 50,000-gallon oil spill in San Francisco Bay, according to Feinstein's office.

The spill occurred Nov. 7, when in heavy fog, the container ship Cosco Busan sideswiped a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge tower, opening a large gash in the ship's side.

The spill killed thousands of birds, temporarily closed beaches throughout the Bay Area as the oil washed ashore, and damaged the local fishing industry.

According to Feinstein's office, the total economic impact of the spill could be more than $50 million.

In a statement announcing the legislation, Feinstein, D-Calif., called for "strong, common-sense standards" to protect against oil spills.

The bill requires new cargo ships over 5,000 gross tons to have a double hull protecting their fuel tanks by 2010, and existing ships to make the change by 2024.

Double-hull protection is already required of oil tankers, after Congress passed legislation following 1989's Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

According to Feinstein's office, newer and larger cargo ships exempted from those regulations - like the 900-foot Cosco Busan - carry hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil as fuel, posing "a serious environmental threat."

In addition, the bill directs the Coast Guard to assume direct authority of all vessels during adverse conditions, or "enhanced danger" situations, such as an act of war or terrorism, low visibility, or after a large oil spill or hazardous materials discharge.

According to Feinstein's office, the Coast Guard already has the authority under the 1972 Ports and Waterways Safety Act to take those actions, but rarely does.

The bill would give the Coast Guard regional sector commander the authority to stop ships, change their course, or return them to a safe harbor.

The National Transportation Safety Board had two days of hearings on the Cosco Busan spill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Cosco Busan pilot John Cota, 60, has pleaded not guilty to federal criminal misdemeanor charges in connection with his role in the spill. A trial is scheduled for May 27 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

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