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Penn Cove's derelict crab boat: Up, up and away

Weather cooperating, Wednesday will be the derelict crab boat Deep Sea’s last day in Penn Cove.

Richard Walker, the on-scene coordinator with the state Department of Ecology, said Tuesday morning the boat was ready to be towed to dry dock in Seattle but that the forecast made it unsafe so authorities would make the attempt as soon as the weather breaks Wednesday.

“It’s possible it will be so early that it’s still dark,” Walker said. “We’re working in a limited window so as soon as the weather is good enough to tow we’ll start towing.”

The Deep Sea was raised from its resting place in about 60 feet of water just outside Penn Cove Shellfish’s mussel rafts Sunday afternoon. It sank three weeks before, May 13, after it caught fire and burned for nearly a day.

The 340-ton vessel was lifted from the depths by two massive cranes positioned on barges after more than a week of preparatory work by divers from the state’s hired contractor, Global Diving & Salvage Inc.

The operation lasted most of the day and was a very public event, attracting journalists, elected officials and dignitaries from all over the state, as well as a variety of local gawkers.

Madrona Way was closed from Highway 20 to Sherman Road for safety reasons, but scores of people parked along the bluff to witness the spectacle. Some watched with binoculars from lawn chairs while many others snapped photos for their personal scrapbooks.

One enterprising businessman, Captain Whidbey Inn owner Loyd Moore, set out a make-shift sign advertising his business and waterfront accessibility.

Among the elected officials present was District 10 Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano. She called the situation “ridiculous” and confirmed that she would be looking at legislation to help prevent such accidents in the future.

District 10 state Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, were also there as was Island County commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola.

Peter Goldmark, commissioner of public land and manager for the state Department of Natural Resources was also in attendance. During interviews with reporters, he defended the agency by saying it wasn’t to blame for the unexpected sinking.

He said the vessel was private property and that the state didn’t have the authority to simply remove it despite the fact that it had been anchored in Penn Cove for months longer than the 30 days allowed under state law.

He also said the Deep Sea was inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard while it was in Penn Cove and found to be safe.

“It was not visibly in danger of sinking,” said Goldmark, adding that it foundered because of the fire.

He called it a “unique situation” and said it could have been better managed or even avoided entirely with additional authority and funding from the state Legislature.

The actual operation to lift the vessel began at about 9:30 a.m. By 1:30 p.m., the entire deck was visible above the water and crews began “dewatering” the boat with pumps a short time later.

According to Walker, inspections after the vessel was raised showed that it was able to float on its own so it was removed from the slings Monday. The ship’s fuel tanks were also found to be empty, he said.

However, he did confirm that diesel fuel that was trapped in other areas of the boat did escape during the hoisting. And although oil sheen was seen throughout the mussel rafts, he said it was a very small amount.

“The substantial threat of an oil spill is over,” Walker said.

He and a team actually boarded the charred vessel Monday afternoon. Walker said it was evident that fire burned throughout the vessel though less so in the forepeak.

“The engine room and the superstructure were severely damaged by fire,” he said.

Walker said no bodies were recovered during the effort nor was there any sign of anyone living aboard, though he said any traces likely would have been wiped out by the fire.

Capt. Scott Ferguson, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound, was present during Sunday's raising and said he was happy with how the operation went but voiced disappointment that it was needed in the first place.

The Port of Seattle sold the vessel to Renton scrap dealer Rory Westmoreland for $2,500 in November. Westmoreland had no insurance and has not been able to pay for the clean up or raising, which is expected to cost at least $2.3 million.

“To sell it to someone who doesn’t have the means to take care of it is, in my mind, negligent,” Ferguson said.

“People who own boats need to be responsible for them because it can cost taxpayers in the end,” he said.

Since the Deep Sea sank, approximately 5,045 gallons of diesel fuel was recovered directly from the vessel’s tanks and on the surface with absorbent pads and skimming boats.

The leakage resulted in the closure of shellfish harvesting in Penn Cove by the state Department of Health on May 15. Mark Toy, an environmental engineer with the agency, said Tuesday that toxicity testing has already been completed and shellfish are once again safe to eat.

The lowest tide of the year occurred yesterday and recreational clam diggers were getting anxious. However, a sensory panel from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospherical Administration must give the OK before the fishery can be reopened.

“They are testing for taint,” Toy said, which he defined as the smell or taste of petroleum.

The testing was supposed to occur Tuesday morning with a decision made later this afternoon. The results were not tallied by press time and could not be reported, but Penn Cove Shellfish owner Ian Jefferds said he was optimistic that the mussel fishery would be open by Wednesday.

“They are going to be fine, it’s just part of the process,” Jefferds said.

His confidence was in part due to the fact that he did some personal taste testing last week.

“We couldn’t taste anything so we cooked them up and had them for lunch,” he said.

Opening the fishery will be good news for the Coupeville-based company. While their farm in Quilcene has helped mitigate the financial impacts of the three-week shutdown, it’s still been costly and he has yet to sit down and tally the total damage.

 

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