"Do we need an environmental disaster to accomplish what we need to accomplish?" he asked.
Prince William Sound and Port Valdez in Southern Alaska, noted for their frequent snowstorms, fog and gale-like winds, are hazardous for navigation. Champion said oil spills which would result from unsafe tankers could severely damage the area's fragile ecology and could ruin fishing which is now the state's largest industry.
Of 26 tankers earmarked by oil companies for the Alaskan trade, only 12 have segregated ballasts, Champion said. Only seven Alaskan ships will reportedly have double bottoms.
Alaska and Washington have also objected to what they consider a lack of maneuverability in the ships, which will have single propellers and single ruoders. Champion testified that the Coast Guard should require higher maneuberability either through special equipment called lateral thrusters of with the aid of standby tugboats.
The Coast Guard should require inert gas systems - a method of filing empty carga space with gas - to prevent tanker explosions like the one in Long Beach, Cal. last month which killed 11 people, Champion said.
Seventeen of the Alaskan tankers do not have such systems.
Champion also criticized the Coast Guard for deleting from recent rules a requirement for collision avoidance systems and for a long-range nevigational aid called the Loran-C.
The oil companies involved - Atlantic Richfield Standard Oil of California, Exxon, Mobil and Standard Oil of Ohio - all say their ships are safe and maneuverable.
They deny the need for segregated ballast, since Valdz provides facilities to off-load ballast, and point out that experts disagree over the effectiveness of double bottoms.
According to Champion, remodeling a tanker can cost $600,000 for a segregated ballast system and $1 million for an incit system.
He estimated that requiring a comprehensive set of safety standards for the Alaskan tankers would add less than one quarter of a cent to the price of each gallon of oil.
If the Coast Guard refuses, as it has, to apply stricter standards generally to U.S and foreign vessels, the governors of Washington, Alaska and Oregon have asked the agency to set such standards for U.S. vessels engaged exclusively in comestic trade. The Coast Guard says it has no legal authority to differentiate.
Although U.S. ships, such as those in the Alaska trade, are not as safe as they could be, according to witnesses at yesterday's hearings, foreign ships are worse. Paul Hall, President of the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department said that because of superior training requirements, U.S. manned vessels should transport imported oil.
A bill that would have required 30 per cent of oil imports to be transported on U.S. flag ships was pocket vetoed last year, but Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) said it would be reconsidered this year.