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Sinking incident points to state’s struggle with derelict vessels

Two derelict vessels are sinking in a bankrupt marina near Tacoma. Fire fighters have circled them with oil booms to contain any pollutants. 

The incident is the latest in a series of stories that show the link between ecological health and the economy.

The two boats in question were chained together when one of them, the Helena Star, began to sink. The other, the Golden West, was listing badly when coast guard and firefighters got to the scene.

Most of the fuel left inside them when they were abandoned – about 20-thousand gallons -- had already been drained from them last March. That’s because they’ve been on a watch list, maintained by the state.

"One of our biggest issues is just not knowing who owns some of these vessels,"says Toni Droscher, with the Department of Natural Resources. "A lot of the registrations are expired, the documentation can't be found, so that's one of our biggest challenges.

The last registered owner of the vessels was Mason Marina, where they’re located. It went bankrupt last March.

The state’s list of derelict vessels has 230 boats on it now. Most prominent perhaps is the Deep Sea, which made headlines when it caught fire and sank last year, contaminating shell fish beds at Penn Cove off Whidbey Island. It was towed to Seattle.

The state pays for containment with licensing and registration fees.

State and federal agencies have spent millions on environmental cleanup in the area around the spill. The Hylebos Waterway is part of the Commencement Bay Superfund site.

The area is home to several runs of salmon and other sensitive species. It connects to Puget Sound. Former governor Chris Gregoire made restoration of the sound’s ecosystems one of her biggest priorities.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to