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Places of Refuge for Alaska

This website has been used to assist workgroups in the development of documents describing Potential Places of Refuge PPOR in Alaska. PPOR are pre-identified sites that may aid decision-makers in responding to vessels in distress. These plans are tailored to protect sensitive areas from impacts from possible spills and are map-based to save time during the critical first few hours of a vessel response.

For the purposes of planning, Alaska has been divided into ten regions, or Subareas. PPOR have been developed for four of the Subareas by workgroups that were formed under the governing Subarea Committee. PPOR workgroup participants included State and Federal resource trustee agencies and local experts. Public involvement was essential to ensure that the places selected reflect the environmental protection priorities of local communities, stakeholders, and resource users.

At present, PPOR have not yet been developed for all Subareas. In the listing above of the ten Subareas, those that have PPOR in place are linked to those Subarea plans or sites. Subareas that are shown as plain text do not yet have PPOR.

Project Background

Leaking or disabled vessels may require a sheltered location with adequate water depth to repair or lighter the vessel in order to minimize the amount of spilled product. If disabled vessels are not repaired, oil or other hazardous substances released from the vessel can impact downstream environmental resources and shoreline. Vessels should be anchored or moored in protected waters to safely undergo repairs and minimize polluting the environment.

These chosen Subareas have some of the most environmentally sensitive coastal areas in Alaska. In addition to sensitive shoreline habitats such as marshes, sheltered tidal flats, and exposed tidal flats, they supports a number of sensitive biological resources including birds, fish and shellfish, and marine mammals. These areas contain national refuges, state critical habitat areas, state parks, native and other private lands, and is managed for a variety of uses.

The Subareas are also widely used for marine commerce and have significant traffic en route to ports within the subareas and passing nearby to other ports. As international trade and development of Alaska’s natural resources increase this traffic, in all probability, will increase. Tankers, tramper vessels, log transport ships, fuel and freight barges, freighters, ferries, and large passenger vessels make routine stops at these ports. Also, commercial fishing boats, sport fishing charter boats, and privately owned vessels regularly use local harbors and docks.

Anchoring or mooring large vessels generally requires water depths 30 fathoms or less. In addition, labor and necessary equipment must be available to make repairs or to lighter product. Suitable emergency mooring locations were pre-identified for these Subareas to expedite the response process. Now that these locations have been identified and information collected and vetted through a work group process, the document will be included in the Subarea Contingency Plan.

There is no perfect mooring or anchoring site for all vessels and all situations. Larger vessels, such as oil tankers and freighters, cannot be taken to certain locations. Some ports may have shallow approaches or small-sized bays, and large ships cannot enter these locations. But smaller vessels, such as fishing vessels and charter vessels, may be able to utilize these smaller sites. Decision-makers must address both environmental and operational issues when deciding where to take stricken vessels.

The decision-makers may use the collected information to refer to pre-identified sites that may aid them in responding to a vessel in distress. Potential anchoring or mooring sites identified in these plans were reviewed by state and federal agencies, the Alaska Marine Pilots Association, the marine crude oil shippers, local communities, and oil spill response cooperatives.  This ensures that the information contained in the plans is correct and useful to decision makers in the event a vessel needs assistance. The U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) has jurisdiction over approving temporary mooring or anchoring locations for leaking or damaged vessels within the Subarea. The COTP will confer with state and local officials when deciding where and when to move a stricken vessel. Prior coordination and pre-identification of potential places of safe refuge significantly enhances the decision-making process and facilitates the overall response operation.

Another workgroup, convened by the Alaska Regional Response Team (ARRT), has developed guidance on the decision-making process for choosing a place of refuge at the time of an incident. That workgroup used the lessons learned from previous incidents and drills to create the decision-making template for places of refuge. The local COTP will use these guidelines if a situation arises that may require a vessel be moved to a place of refuge. The guidelines developed by the ARRT workgroup address two major problems:

  • What decision-making procedure is used to allow a ship in distress into a place of refuge
  • What process is needed to conduct pre-incident planning to identify acceptable potential places of refuge

Download (PDF 165K) a copy of the ARRT Guidelines for Places of Refuge Decision-Making.

Each vessel incident presents unique circumstances that must be addressed. The goal is to safely repair or salvage a damaged vessel while avoiding or minimizing impacts to local resources. Prior to bringing a vessel into an anchoring or mooring location, the following factors needs to be considered:

  • Status of the vessel
  • Public safety
  • Environmental resources at risk
  • Strategies to protect sensitive areas
  • Prevailing winds
  • Navigational approach to the mooring site
  • Anchoring ground
  • Vessel traffic
  • Available dock and support facilities
  • Available skilled and spill response labor
  • Economic concerns and potential impacts


The objective of this project has been to identify docking, anchoring, mooring and grounding locations that may be selected as Potential Places of Refuge in order to enhance the overall response process.

The workgroup process was open to the public and public participation was welcomed and encouraged. The workgroup's record is available for public review, and meeting schedules and documents are available from each subarea site. For additional information regarding Geographic Response Strategies or the workgroup process, or if you have local knowledge about the portions of coastal Alaska for which PPOR are presently developed please contact:

This page last updated: July 6, 2012 by Nuka Research & Planning Group, LLC