Crab boat owner gets 75 days for 2010 sinking, spill in Penn Cove

Westmoreland

The owner of the Deep Sea crab boat that caught fire, sank and spilled oil into Penn Cove is going to jail and is being sued for $1.2 million.

Rory Westmoreland, a Renton scrap-metal dealer, was sentenced to 75 days in jail and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine in Island County District Court Monday.

The state Attorney General’s Office, representing the Department of Natural Resources, filed a lawsuit against Westmoreland in Island County Superior Court last week. The suit aims to recoup costs incurred in disposing of the vessel.

In addition, the Department of Ecology last year fined Westmoreland $301,000 for the oil spill that resulted from the Deep Sea sinking.

Yet Penn Cove Shell Fish has yet to see a penny of compensation for the disaster, which forced the closure of shellfish harvest for a month in 2012 and had other longer-range consequences for the business.

Co-owner Ian Jefferds said he filed a claim with the National Pollution Fund Center, run by the Coast Guard, several years ago but hasn’t heard anything back. The Department of Ecology also filed a complaint but has already been paid by the fund.

“It had a huge impact on our business,” Jefferds said.

“We didn’t get a seed set in as a result,” he said, referring to the mussels that grow on the farm’s rafts in Penn Cove.

Christopher Anderson, a deputy prosecutor with the Island County Prosecutor’s Office, also emphasized the impact the spill had on the economy in his sentencing memorandum.

“The defendant’s actions jeopardized the business of not only Penn Cove Shellfish, which actually lost significant business, but also numerous inns, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses around Penn Cove that rely on the natural beauty of Penn Cove to attract patrons,” he wrote.

Westmoreland, the owner of Northwest Steel & Recycling, purchased the 141-foot, steel-hulled crab boat from the Port of Seattle for $2,500 in November of 2011.

The port advertised the boat on Craigslist as scrap metal. As part of the terms of the sale, Westmoreland assured the port that his plan was to have the boat scrapped. He even provided information that he had a pre-arranged dry dock where he intended to cut it up, according to Anderson.

Instead of taking the boat to dry dock, he had it towed to Penn Cove, where it was illegally anchored in state-owned tidelands in December of 2011.

The state Department of Natural of Resources first contacted Westmoreland in January and informed him that he either needed to remove the vessel or obtain authorization to keep it moored in Penn Cove. The DNR kept in regular contact with Westmoreland and even located multiple marinas where he could take the boat, but he “never took any genuine steps towards having the vessel removed from Penn Cove,” Anderson wrote.

In March of 2012, the DNR sent Westmoreland a notice of trespass that stated he would be fined for every day he failed to remove the vessel.

“Immediately after receiving this notification, on March 13, 2012,” Anderson wrote, “the defendant attempted to fire sale the boat by duping an acquaintance, Patrick Roth, into purchasing the vessel from him for $100, in a hastily written agreement on a piece of notebook paper.”

The agreement provided that Roth had 40 days to move the boat. Westmoreland then contacted the DNR and informed officials that he no longer owned the boat.

The DNR, however, contacted Roth and informed him that the vessel had to be moved immediately and that fines were accruing. Roth immediately contacted Westmoreland and rescinded the deal, according to Anderson.

On the night of May 12, 2012, the Deep Sea caught fire in what was later determined to be an arson. It sank to the bottom and spilled 5,555 gallons of diesel.

The DNR contacted Westmoreland, who said he did not plan on taking responsibility for raising the vessel, but suggested that it be left on the bottom of Penn Cove. He said he did not know how the fire started but said he thought it might have been “kids playing with matches,” the memorandum states.

Anderson noted that Westmoreland was never charged with arson in connection with the burning of the Deep Sea.

The prosecutor’s office did, however, charge him with a vessel abandonment, a misdemeanor charge. He pleaded guilty last month.

Monday, Anderson argued that Westmoreland should receive the maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.

“This offense represents the most serious violation of the derelict vessel statute since its inception,” he said in a statement to Whidbey News Group. “Besides holding Mr. Westmoreland accountable, this case should serve as a deterrent to others who might abandon vessels in the pristine waters around Island County.”

Jefferds and Steve Foster, a resident who lives on Penn Cove, spoke at the hearing. Jefferds said he discussed the impact on his business and rebutted a claim by Westmoreland’s attorney, Cooper Offenbecher of Seattle, that his client was remorseful.

Foster spoke about the anger and frustration the community felt after the incident, according to Anderson.

Offenbecher argued that Westmoreland should receive a suspended sentence.

District Court Judge Bill Hawkins sentenced Westmoreland to 75 days, 15 days less than the maximum.

“We are disappointed in the jail sentence, which we do not believe was warranted given the unusual facts,” said Offenbecher in a statement. “Mr. Westmoreland was well-intentioned, and got caught up in circumstances beyond his control. He never intended for any harm to come to the Deep Sea or Penn Cove.”