[Federal Register Volume 61, Number 131 (Monday, July 8, 1996)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 35703-35705]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 96-17302]


Coast Guard

33 CFR Part 167

[CGD 96-030]

Port Access Routes; Approaches to the Cape Fear River and 
Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina

AGENCY: Coast Guard, DOT.

ACTION: Notice of study.


SUMMARY: The Coast Guard is conducting a port access route study to 
evaluate the need for vessel routing or other traffic management 
measures in the approaches to the Cape Fear River and Beaufort Inlet, 
NC. Concerns for the

[[Page 35704]]

safety of navigation in these areas have been expressed by the Morehead 
City Pilots Association and the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in 
Wilmington, NC. This port access route study will determine what, if 
any, vessel routing or other traffic management measures are needed in 
the approaches to the Cape Fear River and Beaufort Inlet, NC. As a 
result of the study, vessel routing measures or other vessel operating 
requirements may be proposed in the Federal Register.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before October 7, 1996.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be mailed to Commander (Aow), Fifth Coast 
Guard District, 431 Crawford Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704-5004. The 
comments and other materials referenced in this notice will be 
available for inspection and copying at 431 Crawford Street, 
Portsmouth, VA, room 401. Normal office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 
Monday through Friday, except holidays. Comments may also be hand 
delivered to this address.

LT Edward Westfall (757) 398-6559 or E.Westfall/LANT[email protected] 
(Internet), or Margie Hegy (202) 267-0415 or M.Hegy/G-
M[email protected] (Internet).


Request for Comments

    The Coast Guard is interested in receiving information and opinions 
from persons who have an interest in safe routing of ships in the study 
area. Vessel owners and operators are specifically invited to comment 
on any safety concerns they may have when operating in the study area. 
Negative impacts that may result from the establishment of a routing 
measure, such as a traffic separation scheme (TSS), or a regulated 
navigation area (RNA) with vessel operating requirements should be 
identified and supported with documentation of any costs or benefits.
    Commenters should include their names and addresses, identify this 
notice (CGD 96-030), and give reasons for each comment. Receipt of 
comments will be acknowledged if a stamped, self-addressed post card or 
envelope is enclosed. In addition to the specific questions asked 
herein, comments from the maritime community, offshore development 
concerns, environmental groups and any other interested parties are 
invited. All comments received during the comment period will be 
considered in the study and in development of any regulatory proposals.
    The Fifth Coast Guard District will conduct the study and develop 
recommendations. LT Edward Westfall, Waterways Management Section, Aids 
to Navigation and Waterways Management Branch, Fifth Coast Guard 
District (757) 398-6559, is the project officer responsible for the 

Background and Purpose

    The 1978 amendments to the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PWSA), 
33 U.S.C. 1223(c), require that a port access route study be conducted 
prior to establishing or adjusting fairways or TSS's. The Coast Guard 
is undertaking a port access route study to determine if a vessel 
routing system is needed in the study area.
    An internationally recognized vessel routing system is one or more 
routes or routing measures aimed at reducing the risk of casualties. A 
system may include TSS's, two-way routes, recommended tracks, areas to 
be avoided, inshore traffic zones, roundabouts, precautionary areas, 
and deep-water routes.
    A TSS is a routing measure which minimizes the risk of collision by 
separating vessels into opposing streams of traffic through the 
establishment of traffic lanes. Vessel use of a TSS is voluntary; 
however, vessels operating in or near an International Maritime 
Organization (IMO) approved TSS are subject to Rule 10 of the 
International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea, 1972 (72 
    A two-way route is a route within defined limits inside which two-
way traffic is established, aimed at providing safe passage of ships 
through waters where navigation is difficult or dangerous.
    A recommended track is a route which has been specially examined to 
ensure so far as possible that it is free of dangers and along which 
ships are advised to navigate.
    An area to be avoided is a routing measure comprising an area 
within defined limits in which either navigation is particularly 
hazardous or it is exceptionally important to avoid casualties and 
which should be avoided by all ships, or certain classes of ships.
    An inshore traffic zone comprises a designated area between the 
landward boundary of a TSS and the adjacent coast and is used in 
accordance with Rule 10(d) of the 72 COLREGS.
    A roundabout is a routing measure comprising a separation point or 
circular separation zone and a circular traffic lane within defined 
limits. Traffic within the roundabout is separated by moving in a 
counterclockwise direction around the separation point or zone.
    A precautionary area is a defined area where ships must navigate 
with particular caution and within which the direction of traffic flow 
may be recommended.
    A deep-water route is a route within defined limits which has been 
accurately surveyed for clearance of sea bottom and submerged obstacles 
as indicated on nautical charts.
    The approaches to the Cape Fear River and Beaufort Inlet, NC were 
last studied in 1981, and the final results were published on July 22, 
1982 (47 FR 31766). The study concluded that ``there is no need to 
impose new ship routing measures such as TSS's or shipping safety 
fairways where fixed structures would be prohibited, in any'' area off 
the North Carolina coast. Vessel traffic density and channel depth and 
width have changed since 1981.
    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Waterborne Commerce of The United 
States reports that, from 1981 to 1993, annual trips to and from the 
Port of Wilmington, NC increased by 128% (from 10,060 to 22,897) and 
the number of trips to and from Morehead City Harbor, NC decreased by 
57% (from 7,842 to 3,385). Since 1981, the actual controlling depth for 
the Cape Fear River ocean bar channel has increased from 38 feet to 40 
feet, the project depth. The project depth for Beaufort Inlet/Morehead 
City has recently been increased from 42 to 45 feet.
    The Morehead City Pilots Association requested additional aids to 
navigation in the approach routes commonly used for Beaufort Inlet 
because a dredge spoil area has shallowed the area. They also report 
difficulty in distinguishing the range lights on Beaufort Inlet Reach 
because of background lights from the town of Beaufort; and, the light 
at the entrance to Gallants Channel is easily confused with the lights 
marking the Morhead City Channel and could be the cause of an accident. 
Because of safety concerns associated with the close proximity of 
shipping lanes to shallow water, the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office 
in Wilmington, NC suggested that establishing anchorages and a vessel 
routing scheme, to include pilot transfer zones, may assist safe 
navigation in the study area.

Study Area

    The study area is bounded by a line connecting the following 
geographic positions:

              Latitude                            Longitude             
34 deg.40'N                          77 deg.00'W                        
34 deg.40'N                          76 deg.15'W                        
34 deg.10'N                          76 deg.15''W                       

[[Page 35705]]

33 deg.15'N                          77 deg.30'W                        
33 deg.00'N                          78 deg.20'W                        
33 deg.50'N                          78 deg.20'W                        
33 deg.50'N                          77 deg.55'W                        

    The study area encompasses the approaches to the Cape Fear River 
and Beaufort Inlet, as well as the area offshore of North Carolina used 
by commercial vessels transiting to and between these ports.


    The Coast Guard is trying to determine the scope of any safety 
problems associated with vessel transit in the study area. It is 
expected that information will be gathered during the study that will 
identify the problems and appropriate solutions.
    The study may recommend the following:
    1. No vessel routing measures are needed.
    2. Establish one or more of the following vessel routing measures:
    (a) TSS in the Approach to Cape Fear River;
    (b) TSS in the Approach to Beaufort Inlet;
    (c) TSS Off North Carolina encompassing the routes typically used 
by merchant and naval vessels transiting the study area;
    (d) Precautionary area(s) near either or both approaches;
    (e) Inshore traffic zone(s) near either or both approaches; and,
    (f) Establish an area to be avoided in shallow areas where the risk 
of grounding is present.
    3. Create anchorage area(s).
    4. Establish a regulated navigation area with specific vessel 
operating requirements to ensure safe navigation in areas near shallow 

Procedural Requirements

    In order to provide safe access routes for movement of vessel 
traffic proceeding to and from U.S. ports, the PWSA directs that the 
Secretary designate necessary fairways and TSS's in which the paramount 
right of navigation over all other uses shall be recognized. Before a 
designation can be made, the Coast Guard is required to undertake a 
study of potential traffic density and the need for safe access routes.
    During the study, the Coast Guard is directed to consult with 
federal and state agencies and to consider the views of representatives 
of the maritime community, port and harbor authorities or associations, 
environmental groups, and other parties who may be affected by the 
proposed action.
    In accordance with 33 U.S.C. 1223(c), the Coast Guard will, to the 
extent practicable, reconcile the need for safe access routes with the 
needs of all other reasonable uses of the area involved. The Coast 
Guard will also consider previous studies and experience in the areas 
of vessel traffic management, navigation, shiphandling, the effects of 
weather, and prior analysis of the traffic density in certain regions.
    The results of this study will be published in the Federal 
Register. If the Coast Guard determines that new routing or other 
regulatory measures are needed, a notice of proposed rulemaking will be 
published. It is anticipated that the study will be concluded by 31 
December 1996.

    Dated: June 28, 1996.
J.C. Card,
Rear Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard, Chief, Marine Safety and Environmental 
[FR Doc. 96-17302 Filed 7-5-96; 8:45 am]