SEATTLE — The Deep Sea, a 140-foot fishing vessel, caught fire and sank almost three weeks ago. It’s been leaking oil ever since, forcing the closure of local shellfish beds. The boat’s set to be removed from Penn Cove on Sunday.
That raises an important question: What’s taken so long?
“It’s not that easy to just pick up the vessel,” says Melissa Ferris, head of the Derelict Vessels Program at the Department of Natural Resources. “We’re bringing up one of the largest cranes in Washington to pick this vessel up and even then it’s going to take the small crane on the front and the larger crane to pick up the middle section.”
The Deep Sea weighs more than 300 tons – too much for most cranes to lift.
Here’s another problem: the boat’s on its side 60 feet below the surface of Penn Cove, nestled in soft silty clay. That makes it extra hard for divers to get chains under the hull to hook the boat up to the crane.
Oh, and the big crane had “another engagement” in Seattle and won’t make it to Whidbey Island until Sunday.
Contract divers for the Department of Ecology have removed over 5,000 gallons of fuel but the boat’s still leaking. They haven’t found any oiled wildlife, even though there’s a thin sheen of oil on the surface. Divers are plugging leaks down below and Ecology officials worry more fuel could escape when the boat’s raised.
The abandoned boat had been on Melissa Ferris’ radar for over a year. Rory Westmoreland bought it from the Port of Seattle and planned to scrap it, but instead he moored it illegally in Penn Cove until it caught fire and sank on May 13.
Westmoreland could not be reached for this story but there are a lot of people who aren’t too pleased with him.
The Department of Natural Resources had begun fining him but he never paid. The agency called the Coast Guard to assess the vessel. But the Coast Guard grossly underestimated the amount of fuel on board.
Governmental agencies failed to take definitive action on the vessel or its owner until it was too late.
Ian Jefferds co-owns Penn Cove Shellfish. He’s been worried about Westmoreland’s illegally-moored boat since it first arrived. The boat was within a couple hundred yards of the company’s mussel rafts. Jefferds is pleased with the government’s response to the sunken vessel but as for Rory Westmoreland?
“I don’t really have anything to say to him,” Jefferds says, “except that he’s made a mess and he should own up to it.”
Westmoreland could be looking at a bill of almost $2 million for the clean-up and removal of his boat. Several agencies have launched investigation into the cause of the fire that sank it.
Ian Jefferds’ shellfish are not showing signs of contamination but they’ll be tested again once the ship is removed.
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