GUY GLENN JR. PHOTOS
ILWACO — It was there, and then it wasn’t.
On the night of Friday, Nov. 17, the 77-year-old Lihue II looked perfectly sound as it sat in the Port of Ilwaco slip, where it had been moored for a few days. By Saturday morning, it was sitting on the bottom of the port basin.
Now, Port of Ilwaco staff are confronting the possibility that they may be stuck cleaning up someone else’s 55-ton mess.
While it appears that the sinking did not cause a serious oil spill, there are plenty of other complications when a 61-foot-long, pre-World War II boat sinks in a small port.
“We’ve been dealing with other derelict vessels for years, but we’ve never had one of this size,” Port Manager Guy Glenn Jr. said on Nov. 20.
Port staff noticed the boat was underwater on Nov. 18. According to Glenn, they acted quickly to minimize damage and alert authorities.
It’s always worrisome when a derelict vessel sinks, because many of them leak environmentally harmful oil, fuel and solvents into the water. However, with one of the first big windstorms of the winter season due to arrive on Sunday, Glenn was especially concerned about getting the situation under control.
“There wasn’t ever any significant spill, but any time a boat goes down, there is always some level of sheen in the water,” Glenn said. “Just a little drop or two of oil can make a big difference.”
Workers placed booms around the boat to keep pollution from spreading. Glenn also contacted the U.S. Coast Guard and the state Department of Ecology. They started working to find the owners of the boat.
“We brought in divers on Saturday evening,” Glenn said. “They plugged up any kinds of vents, tried to minimize any leaking coming out of the boat.” On Sunday, U.S. Coast Guard contractors pumped the remaining fuel out of the boat. Glenn said the most important work was completed by the time the storm got serious.
Ecology officials have taken water samples, and are testing them to learn whether the demise of the Lihue II caused significant water pollution.
About the boat
Glenn said the Lihue II was a “transient boat,” meaning it was traveling between destinations when it arrived in Ilwaco in mid-November.
Records from the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission show that the wood-hulled boat was built in 1939 by Hawaiian Tuna Packers — which eventually became part of Bumble Bee Seafoods, based in Astoria. As of March, the boat was owned by Stuart Arnold of Astoria, and registered in Warrenton, according to federal records. It appears that Arnold owned the boat for a number of years, as he completed the federal registration paperwork at least 12 times. However, Glenn said, the boat may have recently changed hands.
“That’s part of the problem, actually,” Glenn said. “We’re trying to determine ownership.” Authorities are also trying to determine what, if any insurance coverage the boat had.
“It’ll be a process, figuring all that out, and figuring out a plan to salvage,” Glenn said.
Fishermen told Glenn the boat appears to have gone down “pretty quickly,” but no one knows exactly why.
“When the divers went down to check everything, they noticed the wood is not in good condition,” Glenn said. “We are not sure about the integrity of the hull. We’re still trying to investigate that. I don’t know if it can be determined or not.”
A slow process
During the coming weeks, Ecology will continue to monitor the boat and test water samples to make sure it isn’t causing environmental harm. However, actually getting the boat out of the water could be a slow, complicated process.
Commercial fishing boats are often subject to oversight from multiple jurisdictions and agencies, each with their own rules and procedures. Derelict boats are money-sucking liabilities, so owners sometimes let the documentation lapse into disrepair along with the boats, or offload them through less-than-official channels. It can prove difficult to determine who is legally responsible for a sunken boat.
Further complicating matters, removal is expensive. If the owner of the boat or an insurance company can’t pay for removal, it might not happen. Washington state has a derelict vessel program, but it doesn’t have nearly enough money to deal with all of the decaying and abandoned boats in the state.
Glenn doesn’t know what will happen with the Lihue II.
“All I can say is we’re still in that process,” Glenn said.