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With Over 25 Million Gallons Of Crude Oil Being Shipped Per Week On Hudson River, Senator Says It Is Imperative That The National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Immediately Update The Current Nautical Maps And Charts 

Federal Nautical Charts That Are Vital To Oil Ship Captains Are Over 115 Years Old; Schumer Says New Technology Can Give More Accurate Picture of Hudson River To Prevent Future Environmental Disasters  

Schumer To Feds: Ancient Hudson River Charts Leave Ship Captains Rudderless    

Standing at Pierson Park in Tarrytown, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to immediately update the current nautical charts of the Hudson River. Schumer said the current charts used by oil tankers and oil ship captains navigating the waters of the Hudson were created using outdated technology, more than 115 years ago, and no longer accurately represent the channels up and down the Hudson River. Schumer said these charts are dangerously outdated and could result in a devastating oil spill in the Hudson River, particularly with over 25 million gallons of crude oil per week being shipped down and gasoline being shipped up the river.

“The ancient and dangerous maps and charts used by oil ship captains to navigate the Hudson River are long overdue for an update. These outdated maps deny ship captains the best tools to avoid a catastrophic accident with rocks and other objects, which could trigger a catastrophic oil spill in the Hudson River,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I am calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to update their Hudson River charts using 21st century sounding technology. The ‎Hudson River oil and cargo ships should be guided by the most accurate navigation tools, rather than setting sail blind to the dangers that could await.”

Schumer said the Hudson River is a landmark of New York State that is used by giant oil ship tankers, among other ships, to transport over 25 million gallons of crude oil each week. According to the Hudson River Pilots Association, the more than 100-mile journey up the Hudson begins to narrow between Kingston and Albany by more than 400 feet. The journey up and down the river often includes difficult tides and current.                               

Schumer said having updated nautical maps and charts are so important because it provides critical depth measurements of waterways. Schumer cited an accident in 2012, when an oil tanker ran aground 10 miles south of Albany. Fortunately in that instance, the tanker, carrying nearly 12 million gallons of crude oil, did not release any oil into the Hudson River. However, if there was a breach during the incident, oil could have spilled into the Hudson River, which could have been an environmental disaster. Schumer said future accidents could be averted if NOAA used its 21st Century advanced mapping technology to remap the Hudson River.

NOAA has not surveyed the areas outside this federal channel since 1939 and its soundings have not been updated since before 1900. According to the Hudson River Pilots Association, based on information gathered when smaller vessels ventured outside the federally stipulated channel, the soundings are inaccurate in regards to the water level outside of the federal channel. In particular, the association reports there are certain areas along the channel that are actually 25- to 30-feet deep, when the present charts show water depths of only 12- to 14-feet. Schumer said that, if these maps and charts were updated with this new and up to date information, oil ships could better utilize deeper sections of the already-narrow river channel that are currently considered unsafe.

In addition, the small scale utilized in these charts does not provide enough space for close-quarter navigation details needed for river pilots when traversing the upper Hudson ‎River, in particular, the areas between Kingston and Albany. By increasing the scale of these charts, pilots will have more detailed information on where ships can safely turn around. Furthermore, Schumer said safety and commerce could be enhanced by this new data. For example, right now, nearly all large ships (over 500 feet) that are docking or undocking from the Port of Coeymans in Albany County are required to go 10 miles north to access the turning basin in Albany. This can add roughly 3 hours to each ship transit, and due to daylight restrictions, can even delay sailing or arriving by 18 to 24 hours. Having the most accurate information based on charts that have the most up to date water depths and turn-around details‎ could greatly increase safety and transit on the Hudson River, Schumer said.

Schumer was joined by local boating advocates and Captain Scott Ireland, Senior River Pilot for the Hudson River Pilots Association.

“The soundings provided by NOAA on the current Hudson River NOAA charts are stunningly old and inaccurate, and as Captains of large vessels, we are relying on soundings that are 115+ years old. Navigating the river while relying on these soundings, which are inaccurate and unreliable, present navigators with unacceptable risks. The Hudson River Pilots Association therefore requests that NOAA provide up to date soundings as well as larger scale charts of the Hudson River in order to improve safety of navigation as well as support vital regional commerce, and supports Senator Schumer’s efforts to ensure new maps are provided in a time sensitive matter,” said Captain Scott Ireland, Senior River Pilot for the Hudson River Pilots Association.

“In was in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez infamously ran aground and spilled an estimated 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.  These words were surely spoken, ‘If only we had done something sooner!’ That oil spill killed an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters and thousands of other marine animals and waterfowl. It took 4 years and cost $2.1 billion to clean up. Imagine such a scenario on the Hudson River, and imagine we didn’t do everything we could to prevent it. Well we are here today to take steps to prevent such an accident, and I am grateful to Senator Schumer for immediately recognizing such a profound problem, and expeditiously taking the necessary steps to protect the Hudson River, ensure safe transport of vital goods, and offer updated river maps for shipping and recreational boaters alike,” said Lex Filipowski, Vice President of Boating on The Hudson Media, Boating Advocate.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the NOAA appears below:

Dear Administrator Sullivan:

I write today to urge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to immediately devote all necessary resources to updating the current nautical charts of the Hudson River.  These updates would provide crucial safety and commercial benefits to all types of boaters, from recreational family boaters to crude oil tankers, who travel the Hudson River every day for business and pleasure, while also protecting the health of one of the most well-known and beautiful bodies of water New York state has to offer.

As you know, hundreds of ships sail up and down the Hudson on a daily basis.  These vessels range from families site seeing and enjoying the pristine waters and views of the Hudson, to oil tankers that ship over 25 million gallons of crude oil down the river.  With the increased number of vessels sailing in the channels, it sometimes becomes challenging for two large vessels to safely pass each other.  In order for the larger ships to pass each other safely, they often have to move to the edge or even slightly outside of the federal channel.  This requires the vessels to rely on charts provided by NOAA that are in some cases over 100 years old and extremely inaccurate.  Relying on data that is over a century old is extremely risky and could lead to a major accident if not addressed immediately.

Crude oil vessels have shared the Hudson River with a variety of different boats for a number of years. However, as the size and number of crude oil vessels in the Hudson River increases, it is imperative that all safety precautions are taken to ensure oil spills do not occur.  That is why it is critical that NOAA prioritize and perform a full sounding of the Hudson River as soon as possible.  Not only will this help prevent future crashes and groundings for crude oil vessels, but it will help protect the safety of the people who work on these vessels while also protecting the health of the river for years to come.

The Hudson River is a landmark of New York State.  Not only do boaters use this river to enjoy the natural beauty of New York, they use it commercially to help bolster our state’s economy.  This is why it is crucial that NOAA immediately use their state of the art technology and expertise to update the Hudson River maps to not only make the river safer for families, but also for large commercial vessels.  Recreationally, these inaccurate maps can lead to recreational boaters grounding their boats, cause accidents which could result in significant personal injury and property damage while also deterring boaters from visiting certain portions of the River. Commercially, the outdated maps greatly constrict how large vessels can maneuver around the River, and creates unsafe conditions for the river and large ships alike.  Again, I thank you for your work in protecting the health of boaters on the Hudson River as well as our environment.  Thank you for your attention to this important request.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator