What is SERVS?

Summary: The Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (or SERVS) is a system that escorts oil tankers through Prince William Sound. It was created in the summer of 1989 after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (or EVOS). It is administered by the The Alyeska Pipeline Service Company and is part of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System(TAPS)

The Ship Escort/Response Vessel System

Historic Alaska: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and SERVS


The Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (or SERVS) is a system that is used to escort tankers through Prince William Sound. In 1989 it was created after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

On March 24, 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened, it was the most devastating environmental disaster to occur at sea in history. The oil tanker was heading south through Prince William Sound, which is located on the south coast of Alaska. The Exxon Valdez had left from the Valdez oil terminal in Valdez, Alaska on its 28th voyage.

It is not known whether Captain Joseph Hazelwood gave the orders too late, or whether the helsman, reported to be a relapsed alcoholic, failed to turn the vessel sharply enough to prevent the disaster from occurring at 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989.

Some 1,900 km of Alaskan coastline was affected. The first reports by Exxon’s stating that 10.8 million gallons of oil had been spilled were widely accepted, but other sources estimate the spill at 35 million gallons.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Map

A map of the oil coverage by day. Source: State of Alaska, EVOS Trustee Council

During the early stages of the spill, a trial burn was conducted in a portion of the spill that was isolated from the rest by a fire-resistant boom. Although the test was reasonably successful, unfavorable weather prevented any additional burning from being attempted in this cleanup effort. Using booms and skimmes, mechanical cleanup began shortly afterward. Unforunately, the skimmers were not readily available during the first 24 hours following the spill and thick oil and kelp clogged the equipment.

Oil is one of Alaska’s most valuable and most dangerous resources. One danger is, of course from oil spills. It’s possible for oil petroleum drilling to disturb the land and ocean habitat. New technologies have greatly reduced the number and size of areas disturbed by oil petroleum drilling, which are sometimes called “footprints.” The use of horizontal and directional drilling makes it possible for a single well to produce oil from much larger areas. When the oil in a well is gone, the well has to be plugged below ground making it become hard to tell that it was ever there.

Lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill led to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which mandates that laden single-hull tankers be escorted by at least two towing vessels as they travel through Prince William Sound. The purpose of the tanker tugs is to monitor conditions and alert the tanker of potential problems before they occur and help the tanker avoid any possible tribulations. In addition the tanker tugs help a disabled tanker as quickly as possible, or will begin a response effort in the event of a spill to water.

Prince William Sound’s world-class tanker escort system consists of two high-powered tanker tugs accompanying each laden tanker through the sound. Several tugs are operated by Crowley Marine and managed by SERVS, which is a part of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. The Coast Guard station in Valdez has oversite over all the operations in Prince William Sound.

SERVS tug in Valdez Narrows

An enhanced tractor tug is tethered to a tanker while passing through Valdez Narrows, with a prevention and response tug following behind. Tankers loaded with oil cargo must be escorted throughout Prince William Sound. While transiting the Valdez Narrows, the escort tug must be tethered to the tanker to provide immediate assistance if a steering or propulsion problem occurs.

Another part of SERVS is the Oil Spill Response Exercise Program. This is a workable exercise program that was developed to meet the business needs and regulatory compliance requirements of oil spill response preparedness. This is an opportunity for continued improvement of the Pipeline response plan and the response system Alaska has in place.

The Trans Alaska Pipeline, called the Alyeska Pipeline in Alaska or the Alaska Pipeline elswhere, is a major U.S. oil pipeline connecting oil fields in northern Alaska to a sea port where the oil can be shipped to the lower 48 states for refining.

Construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline presented major challenges because of the remoteness of the terrain and the harshness of the enviorment it had to pass through. On several occasions geological activity had damanaged the pipeline. Since its completion in 1977, the pipeline has transported over 14 billion gallons of oil.



PWSRCAC--Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council Home Page
Formed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the council is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated oil tankers.
Prince William Soundkeeper -
The mission of Prince William Soundkeeper is to protect water quality and the life it sustains in the Prince William Sound ecosystem. Prince William Soundkeeper will advocate compliance with environmental laws, identify problems, and support community involvement in issues directly affecting the water quality of Prince William Sound.
Oil Spill Prevention and Response - from Alyeska-Pipe.com
Ports and Waterways Safety System (PAWSS)
USCG Navigation Center
Oil Spills: Lessons from Alaska
"Overview of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska 'what could be in store for Sakhalin and Hokkaido'
The 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska provides an important lesson in what can be lost in one simple wrong turn of a loaded oil tanker. The spill became for the oil industry worldwide what Chernobyl had become for the nuclear industry and Bhopal for the chemical industry - the symbolic, defining standard against which all other such disasters are measured." - Read more of this excellent report
Oil Spill Task Force Home
ShipAssistnEscort.pdf -from crowley.com
ExxonValdez_NRT_1989.pdf (application/pdf Object) - from akrrt.org
Cal OCEAN: Vessel Traffic Safety Background - from the State of California
Ship Assist and Escort Services- Harbor Towing and Docking- Valdez Alaska- Tugboat
Crowley provides the most reliable Ship Assist and Escort Services in United States West Coast and Alaska. Crowley tugboats perform tanker escorts through the Prince William Sound, and harbor towing and docking services in the Port of Valdez
Crowley Tugs Safeguard Prince William Sound: More than $60 million is spent per year on oil-spill response in Valdez. | Business (Regional)
Crowley Tugs Safeguard Prince William Sound: More than $60 million is spent per year on oil-spill response in Valdez. from Alaska Business Monthly covering Business (Regional) from AllBusiness.com
Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Valdez, Alaska
Valdez oil spill VTS - Google Search
A Google Search for "Valdez Oil Spill VTS"


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