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Press Releases

February 15, 2005

Cheva Heck/NOAA Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary
(305) 292-0311, ext. 26
(305) 304-0179 (cell)


NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, today announced a settlement of more than half a million dollars in a case of a Panamanian freighter cited for coral damage in a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary no-anchor zone.

On October 6, 2002, the United States Coast Guard cited the Panamanian registered MSC Diego for anchoring in a no-anchor zone area within the Sanctuary's Tortugas Ecological Reserve. Sanctuary divers found damage to the coral reef where the ship had been anchored.

Sanctuary biologists assessed the total injured area at 1,175 square meters (about 12,648 square feet), slightly smaller than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. An anchor and its chain had overturned more than 1,000 coral colonies, while completely crushing others.

The National Marine Sanctuaries Act authorizes NOAA to seek damages from the responsible party when sanctuary resources have been injured. Damage assessments cover response, injury assessment, restoration or replacement cost for the injured habitat or acquisition of equivalent habitat. Costs may be obtained to compensate the public for the lost value of the injured resources until they fully recover.

While not admitting fault in the incident, Mediterranean Shipping Company and its insurer, Standard Steamship Owners Protection and Indemnity Association hired Marine Resources, Inc., who worked with sanctuary divers to reattach more than 1,000 coral colonies. The two companies will pay the federal government $100,000 to reimburse response and damage assessment costs. They will also purchase an annuity that will provide $465,796 in future payments to cover monitoring of the restored area and provide for compensatory restoration.

This settlement will allow NOAA to continue to monitor the progress of this restoration and fund other projects that will help compensate the public for the loss of these significant coral reef resources while they recover.

"We commend Mediterranean Shipping Company and their insurer for acting quickly in hiring a contractor to reattach the overturned corals, rather than allowing the coral reef to become the victim of prolonged negotiations," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

NOAA first established an emergency no anchoring zone for vessels over 50 meters in the Tortugas in 1997. In 1998, the area became a permanent no-anchor zone, and in 2001, the establishment of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve extended the no-anchoring restriction to all vessels in part of the new reserve area.

Also in 2001, the International Maritime Organization designated the waters surrounding the Florida Keys as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area, which requires protective measures, such as publishing the Tortugas no-anchor zone on international nautical charts.

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase public awareness of America's maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs.

Thirteen national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of coral reefs, seagrass meadows, hardbottom communities, mangrove shorelines and mud and sand habitat.

The NOAA National Ocean Service manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans and works to balance environmental protection with economic prosperity in its mission promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

The Commerce Department's NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.

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