Before ODP Leg 173 sailed, clearance had been obtained from the Portuguese government to operate in the Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, while the JOIDES Resolution was in port in Lisbon, we learned that a Portuguese telecommunications company, Marconi Portugal, filed a written protest with the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking that Leg 173 drilling clearance be withdrawn. They were concerned about possible damage to seafloor telecommunication cables (TAGIDE 1, TAGIDE 2, Eurafrica, TAT-9, and FLAG) located in the Iberia Abyssal Plain operating area. A meeting was held with Marconi on 17 April 1997 in an attempt to alleviate their concerns. It was explained to Marconi that the drill ship could locate itself very accurately using a very sophisticated Global Positioning System (GPS), that it was a dynamically positioned drill ship that did not require the setting or recovery of anchors, and that the seafloor could be visually surveyed using a subsea television system before to spudding any drill hole. It was further indicated that all of the Leg 173 drill sites were at least 2.0 nmi away from the cables in question. Marconi was not appeased and reiterated its position that all drill sites should be moved outside a 15 nmi corridor extending to either side of each cable. The Foreign Ministry subsequently put the Leg 173 drilling clearance verbally on hold until the problem could be resolved.
During further negotiations, ODP/TAMU agreed in writing to assume full fiscal liability for cable damage and in addition agreed to drop Site Iberia-8A from the drilling prospectus. Thus, the closest drill site to the Iberia pennisula was Site Iberia-8B, which was located 3.6 nmi away from TAGIDE 1. Marconi continued to resist removing their official protest, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was reluctant to reinstate the drilling clearance while the protest remained in effect. The issue was finally resolved when ODP/TAMU further agreed to assume all financial liability for lost revenue should a cable become damaged as a result of the drilling operation. It should be noted that the vessel would have officially sailed from Lisbon at 0745 hr 20 April had it not been for the drilling clearance problem. This incident cost the leg nearly 1.5 days (34.25 hr) of operating time, excluding ~6 hr spent waiting for clearance at the first site.
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