New NSF Liability?

NSF is facing a tough budget year (as we’ve noted). They’re requesting a slight increase in funding — about 2.4 percent for FY 2006 — but it turns out most of the increase will go to fund the operation of some former Coast Guard icebreakers, as well as hiring some long-awaited new staff. Now news comes that a NSF-owned ship, the research vessel Maurice Ewing, apparently ran aground off the coast of Mexico this week and damaged a coral reef. The Mexican government is talking about “substantial fines” to NSF as a result of the accident and are threatening to seize the ship to ensure the fines are paid.
The story is only just starting to play out, but it bears some watching. Because the amount of increase planned for the agency budget is so small, a fine need not be terribly substantial to result in cuts to existing research budgets. And it wouldn’t be the first time NSF’s legal issues threatened to impact the Foundation’s research budget….
Anyway, keep it here for details….
Update: It’s been suggested that because this is an international incident, perhaps the State Department will take care of it. That sounds plausible to me. But I’d love to hear from anyone with more detailed information. harsha [a t] cra . org.