Coast Guard Response to Oil Spills:

Trying To Do Too Much with Too Little

CED-78-111: Published: May 16, 1978. Publicly Released: May 16, 1978.

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The Federal Water Pollution Control Act requires the Coast Guard to contain and clean up oil spills in coastal waters, minimize the environmental damages, and prepare regional and local contingency plans for responding to oil spills.

Although the Coast Guard has tried to meet its responsibilities in responding to oil pollution, it could have been more effective in about 38 percent of cases in terms of response time, monitoring and cleanup operations, action when spills occurred, attempts at removing spills, and investigations of minor spills. Because of staff shortages, some spills have not been investigated, and personnel performing investigations have sometimes been diverted from other marine safety responsibilities. There are also needs for: better equipment for marine safety offices and strike teams, improved research and development on oil spill containment, immediate first aid action to contain and clean up spills, improved regional and local contingency plans, and reporting requirements and dissemination of information on major oil spills.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Coast Guard should: (1) investigate all oil spills; (2) ensure that containment and clean-up action is taken; (3) direct local units to be prepared to take first aid action; (4) monitor spill clean-up action; and (5) assume federal responsibility for cleanup on a more timely basis. It should also improve its personnel resources by determining and reducing staff shortages, establishing a position classification for the marine safety area, improving the marine safety training programs, and increase the diving capabilities of strike teams. The Coast Guard should also: (1) provide adequate transportation and containment and deployment equipment for marine safety offices; (2) provide better oil transfer equipment; and (3) improve the process for carrying out research and development, including arrangements for obtaining information regarding priority research requirements and equipment-operating constraints.

    Agency Affected:


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