Owner of vessel that sank in Penn Cove sued for $2.79 million

Rory Westmoreland is out of jail after serving 75 days earlier this year, but his troubles are far from over.

The former owner of the Deep Sea crab boat — which burned, sank and spilled fuel in Penn Cove — is facing another lawsuit. This time, a team of lawyers for the federal government filed a complaint against the Renton scrap-metal dealer in U.S. District Court, demanding reimbursement for clean-up costs in excess of $2.79 million.

The lawsuit was filed May 11, one day shy of the three-year anniversary of the calamity that spilled 5,555 gallons of diesel fuel and forced the closure of Penn Cove Shellfish for a month. The lawsuit is in behalf of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which reimburses agencies for the cost of spill-related cleanup.

In January, the state Attorney General’s Office, representing the Department of Natural Resources, filed a lawsuit against Westmoreland in Island County Superior Court. The suit aims to recoup $1.2 million in costs incurred in disposing of the vessel.

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

The Island County Prosecutor’s Office also got into the action, charging Westmoreland with vessel abandonment, a misdemeanor crime. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 75 days in jail and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

Deputy Prosecutor Chris Anderson laid out the background of the environmental mishap in a sentencing memorandum.

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.

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 Resources first contacted Westmoreland in January 2012 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.

On the night of May 12, 2012, the Deep Sea caught fire in what was later determined to be 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.

Attorney Cooper Offenbecher of Seattle sent a statement to the Whidbey News Group after he was sentenced.

“Mr. Westmoreland was well-intentioned and got caught up in circumstances beyond his control,” he wrote. “He never intended for any harm to come to the Deep Sea or Penn Cove.”

After the Deep Sea disaster, state lawmakers toughened the laws regarding derelict vessels and the state’s response.