Joint Release: Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Coast Guard, Office of the Attorney General
Out of state waters for good, AG seeks repayment by owner
OLYMPIA – The sunken 167-foot Helena Star has been raised, patched, and towed to Seattle, where it is being scrapped and recycled, announced the Washington State Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Ecology.
The coordinated response team was made up of the two state agencies, US Coast Guard, Tacoma Fire Department, and Global Diving and Salvage, Inc.
“The sinking of the Helena Star shines a light on the continuing problem of derelict and abandoned vessels in Washington State,” said David Palazzi, assistant manager of the Aquatic Lands Division. “We commend the federal, state, local public and private partners that successfully brought an end to this unfortunate and environmentally destructive incident, and we will continue to work with partners to deal with vessels before they pollute and risk human health and navigational safety.”
Escorted by the 62-foot landing craft Prudhoe Bay, the tug Red Bluff towed the derelict Helena Star out of the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma, up Puget Sound, through the Ballard Locks and into Lake Union to the Stabbert Yacht and Ship drydock for scrapping. Throughout the journey, a four-person crew remained onboard the Helena Star to monitor for water leaks and to assist with mooring lines. The dollars recovered by Stabbert for the scrap steel—though not nearly enough to pay for the anticipated $2 million salvage and cleanup process—will go back to the state Derelict Vessel Removal Program, managed by DNR.
“Derelict vessels continue to be an issue in our state and pose a serious threat to public safety and the health of marine and fresh water,” said Dale Jensen, Ecology Spills Program manager. “Along with the financial burden associated with owning older, failing vessels, major potential environmental hazards also exist.”
A special, one-time legislative appropriation to DNR’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program paid to raise, patch, tow, dismantle, recycle, and dispose of the vessel. Ecology helped DNR plan for and manage the overall project, coordinate with stakeholders, and represent the interests of environmental and natural resource agencies. The Coast Guard funded the response to oil pollution during the vessel-raising operation.
“The Coast Guard regularly works with local, state and federal partners to protect our shared maritime environment,” said Capt. Joe Raymond, Coast Guard Captain of Port Puget Sound. “We must leverage all of our available resources to prevent the pollution of Pacific Northwest waterways, which are invaluable to millions of people in our region and beyond.”
The Office of the State Attorney General is pursuing prosecution of the Helena Star’s owner for the costs associated with the response, salvage and scrapping of the vessel.
“It creates a serious public health risk and environmental damage when owners abandon vessels containing hazardous waste in Washington State waters,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “If you break our state laws and pollute our environment, we will hold you accountable.”
Because the public is on the hook for this and other large vessel cleanups and removals where the owner does not pay the expense, the 2014 Legislature revised state law to increase boat-owner responsibility for their vessels and prevent large, old vessels from being passed to people who cannot afford to address their needs. The legislation—which took effect this summer—also offers many small-vessel owners an option to turn over their boats to the state for disposal before they sink and pollute the waters.
Background on the derelict Helena Star
This 167-foot ship sank near the southern end of the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma in January 2013. A second vessel was also threatened. The 130-foot Golden West was tied to the Helena Star when it sank. State and federal agencies directed out-of-state owners and an in-state operator to take responsibility for both vessels. Those directions were ignored, so DNR took custody of both vessels in August 2013. Costs for dealing with both vessels by state and federal agencies are expected to exceed $2 million. Contractor crews tried to raise the freighter in December, but couldn’t lift the hull with a single crane without causing further damage. Plans were drawn for another try, and on Tuesday, July 22, a new contractor, Global Diving and Salvage, engaged two floating cranes to raise the vessel and pump the water from it.
Measures were taken to keep impacts to the environment and properties to a minimum, the most important of which was to wait until July to carry out in-water operations. This was timed to minimize impacts to fish and wildlife habitat in the waterway. Other measures included surrounding the sunken vessel and large cranes with two lines of floating boom to contain oil that have been discharged, and additional spill response equipment for rapid deployment if needed.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Jane Chavey, Department of Natural Resources, (360) 902-1523
Lisa Copeland, Department of Ecology, (360) 515-6868
Katelyn Shearer, U.S. Coast Guard, (20) 220-7237
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Attorney General's Office