Sunken Vessel Off Whidbey Island To Be Removed Sunday

Jun 1, 2012

A 140-foot fishing boat has been leaking oil from the bottom of Penn Cove off Whidbey Island for almost three weeks now. The ship caught fire and sank on May 13th. Local shellfish beds have been closed as agencies prepare to remove the ship. Ashley Ahearn reports.

The Deep Sea, as the vessel is called, is set to be removed on Sunday. The question is: What’s taken so long?

Ferris: “It’s not that easy to just pick up the vessel.”

Melissa Ferris handles the Derelict Vessels Program at the Department of Natural Resources. The Deep Sea weighs more than 300 tons – too much for most cranes to lift.

Ferris: “We’re bringing up one of the largest cranes in WA 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.”

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 was busy, Ferris says.

Ferris: “The big crane has another engagement in Seattle on Saturday to lift some large pieces of equipment that are coming in from overseas.”

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 worries 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 13th.

Rory Westmoreland wasn’t reachable 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. DNR called the Coast Guard to assess the vessel. But the Coast Guard grossly underestimated the amount of fuel onboard.

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-parked boat since it first arrived.

Jefferds: “It’s within a couple hundred yards of our mussel rafts.”

If you could say one thing to Rory Westmoreland what would it be?

Jefferds: “I don’t think you could put it on the radio. I don’t really have anything to say to him 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 on Sunday.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio