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The Harbor Safety Committee, whose members include both public and private agencies who work on the bay, is the group in charge of coming up with new tug escort regulations for San Francisco. To do that, the HSC has a Tug Escort Subcommittee. The TES is, at present, the site of the controversy.
The crux of the debate boils down to something everyone who's ever driven anything knows about: speed. The pilots would like to be able to go fast, and in order to go fast, special "tractor" tugs are being recommended.
The conventional tugboat operators, on the other hand, would like to have the tankers slowed down, at a speed where their tugs are more effective.
"The TES and the HSC have apparently decided to hang their hat on recommendations from an ad hoc group of senior pilots: the TEWG [Tug Escort Working Group]. With all due respect to the San Francisco Bar Pilots, these recommendations fail to provide the best achievable protection and fail to comply with the new federal regulations," attorney Jeff Mudgett wrote to the state Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) in March, on behalf of a group calling itself the Union of Concerned San Francisco Bay Mariners, which is in favor of slowing the tankers down. "At six knots and below, the brute force of the larger conventional tugs provides the best achievable protection," Mudgett continued.
The current draft of the new tug escort regulations provides that a tanker with a tractor tug leashed to it will be allowed to make 10 knots; with an untethered conventional tug, 8 knots.
"You need speed to maneuver," Capt. Moloney explains. "You've got currents here that you're fighting -- we don't want to hamstring the pilots. The problem is, the people who are making demands aren't ship drivers."
"I look at a tug escort as a safety escort that may produce more problems than would otherwise be likely to occur," says Capt. O'Laughlin, operations officer for the bar pilots.
The tugboat operators, unsurprisingly, don't all agree with this assessment.
"The economical, environmental and political fallout from an accident in this bay would be monumental," tugboat operator Brad Burkhart wrote to OSPR. "I would be disappointed to see such well intentioned efforts wasted on a knee-jerk reaction to a problem which has such a simple solution, namely, slow the ships down and provide them with suitable escort tugs for the speeds at which they travel."
At OSPR, which will ultimately take charge of the new regulations, Bud Leland says the debate is to be expected.
"When the stakes are as high as they are, given the cost of the service of escorting, we're not going to make everyone happy," Leland says. "But in my opinion the process hasn't been subject too much to any particular group or another. Those decisions have been very democratic."
In addition, Leland says, "you can't or shouldn't try to devise a system that would affect that particular navigation area without pilots' input. The pilots certainly have provided technical expertise in terms of waterway analysis because they really do know that better than anybody else."
At 24 minutes and 15 seconds past 9 o'clock -- 14 minutes after Hughes first saw the steering go out -- the pilot radios in. "We were on the beach, almost," he tells Traffic. But using the anchor as a pulley of sorts, he's kicked the ship off the beach into deeper water. Now the tanker's in midchannel, in deep water, waiting for escort tugs to help her limp into port.
When Ern Russell and the Chevron Richmond tug arrive, Hughes wants Russell to put up a tow line. Then, as the other tugs pull up, it's decided that the tug Albert Foss will put a line up to the stern, to be able to prevent any forward motion if necessary. The other tugs are lined up to the side and front. But as the men are beginning to attach the lines from the Mundogas to the tugs, Hughes calls them off. The Mundogas' chief engineer has discovered the blown transformer at the root of the steering malfunction and has wired the hand-steering system over to the auto-steering system. Under her own power, with the four tugs as escorts, the Mundogas creeps into port, finally anchoring at a quarter past midnight on Monday, March 13, in the deep water south of the Bay Bridge.
"They said when Don first called into the Coast Guard it sounded like he was talking to God," says Capt. Moloney, in his office at the Board of Pilot Commissioners, recounting the Mundogas tale for a young apprentice pilot, Mike Haggerty, who sits bolt upright in his gray business suit, his eyes almost colorless behind wire-rimmed glasses. Moloney talked to Hughes the morning the accident happened. When Hughes saw the bridge in front of him, "he says, 'Holy shit, I'm going to die and I'm going to take a whole bunch of people with me.' The second thing he says is, 'Why does this stuff always happen to me?' "
In fact, it didn't have to happen at all. On board the Mundogas on the night the steering blew beneath the Golden Gate were two functional backup steering systems.