COLUMBIA — It was smooth sailing for Charleston harbor pilot boats Wednesday when the House voted overwhelmingly for a measure to allow them to exceed seasonal speed limits.
The House voted 103-0 for a resolution that would make the local harbor pilot boats part of the S.C. Naval Militia so they qualify as law enforcement and can exceed a speed limit set by federal regulation to protect endangered Northern Atlantic right whales.
The resolution needs a final vote that could come as early as today. It passed the Senate last month.
David Cottingham, chief of marine mammal conservation within NOAA Fisheries Service, said his agency will consider the action in South Carolina and determine a next step. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration included an exception for vessels conducting law enforcement duties when it drafted the regulation that is designed to help protect the right whale.
The rule attempts to slow down ship traffic and stops vessels longer than 65 feet from traveling faster than 11 1/2 mph near the coast. It is in effect off the South Carolina between Nov. 1 to April 30 when the whales are in local waters.
Hamilton Davis, project manager for the Coastal Conservation League, said it is up to NOAA to decide how to respond. He noted the time and scientific research that went into drafting the regulation.
John Cameron, assistant to the president of the local pilots' association and a former U.S. Coast Guard captain of the port of Charleston, said the association is closely watching the legislative action.
"If passed, this regulation would bestow upon South Carolina licensed shipping pilots additional duties to be on watch for homeland security issues, and to support other law enforcement agencies and partners as directed," he said. "If passed, we look forward to serving in this capacity."