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Coast Guard Understated Fuel Aboard Derelict Ship

May 18, 2012 | EarthFix
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Bonnie Stewart,
Ashley Ahearn


Related Articles

  • The fishing vessel, Deep Sea, was moored at the Seattle Terminal until December, when Rory Westmoreland bought the boat and moved it to Penn Cove. credit: Washington Department of Ecology
  • The derelict vessel, Deep Sea, caught fire and sank in Whidbey Island's Penn Cove on May 12, causing an oil spill that closed down the harvest of shellfish. credit: Washington State Department of Ecology
The fishing vessel, Deep Sea, was moored at the Seattle Terminal until December, when Rory Westmoreland bought the boat and moved it to Penn Cove. | credit: Washington Department of Ecology | rollover image for more

Four months before the derelict fishing vessel, Deep Sea, caught fire and sank in the Puget Sound, the U.S. Coast Guard reported finding “minimal fuel” in its tank. That assessment has turned out to be inaccurate.

A Coast Guard contractor has removed 3,600 gallons of diesel fuel and that work is not complete. The vessel has a fuel capacity of more than 30,000 gallons.

Coast Guard Marine Science Technician Michael Berlin conducted the fuel assessment in January, about a month after its owner, Rory Westmoreland, anchored it in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island. He explains how the miscalculation occurred:

“We could only access one forward tank which had 50-100 gallons in it and we didn’t have any schematics for the ship and so we couldn’t identify the other fuel tanks.”

Berlin emailed his January findings to Washington state’s Derelict Vessel Program manager. The email noted the following aboard the Deep Sea:


  • “Minimal fuel” in fuel tank
  • A 55-gallon drum on deck marked “motor oil”
  • Six 5-gallon buckets with waste oil
  • Ten inches of oily water in bilge

At that time, the Coast Guard determined the vessel did not pose a substantial or imminent threat to the environment, Berlin said.

The shellfish industry did not agree and asked state officials to move the boat, which was anchored over state aquatic lands.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources had been trying to make Westmoreland move the vessel since January, contacting the owner almost two dozen times and fining the owner $83.44 each day the vessel remained illegally moored.

The Deep Sea is only one of dozens of derelict and abandoned vessels that threaten the waters of Washington and Oregon. Officials in the two states, along with the Coast Guard, have identified 41 vessels that they have dubbed “vessels of concern.” The Deep Sea was not on the list.

VESSELS OF CONCERN Following the $22 million Davy Crockett cleanup, agencies united to form the Derelict Vessel Task Force. So far, they have identified 41 vessels to monitor. Sizes range from small floating homes to the LST 1166, which is 373 feet long.

Source: Derelict Vessel Task Force; Credit: Arashi Young/OPB

The Coast Guard hired a private contractor, Ballard Diving & Salvage, to remove the oil from the Deep Sea.

The Coast Guard and Washington state officials will decide the final fate of the vessel.

Leaving the Deep Sea underwater is not a good option, said Larry Altose, a spokesman for the Department of Ecology.

“This is a steel vessel. When it’s resting on the bottom, over time it will rust. So in spite of all best efforts to locate whatever oil may be on board the vessel, there’s still the possibility that pockets may have floated into some nook or cranny,” Altose said. State officials have estimated it could take about $500,000 to lift and remove the vessel.

An investigation of the fire and sinking of the vessel is underway.

© 2012 EarthFix
derelict vessels oil spill Puget Sound water pollution
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