Work begins to remove derelict Helena Star vessel from Hylebos Waterway

Work begins today to prepare the 167-foot Helena Star for removal from the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay. The vessel, moored at Mason Marine since 2011, sank on Jan. 25.

“Crews have arrived on the scene and are installing the necessary gear to safely lift the Helena Star,” said Chief Petty Officer Darryl Harvey, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound Incident Management Division. “Once the vessel is raised, any remaining petroleum products will be removed to prevent further discharge, after which the vessel will be towed to Seattle for dismantling, recycling and disposal.”

The process to raise the vessel is expected to take several days, and the removal and disposal is likely to take several weeks. A multi-agency, unified command is coordinating the effort. The command includes the U.S. Coast Guard, Washington Department of Ecology, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Tacoma Fire Department, and Ballard Marine Construction.

The Coast Guard will establish a safety zone if needed. Otherwise, the Coast Guard will issue a broadcast notice to mariners every 30 minutes while divers are in the water.

When the Helena Star sank, it was tied to another vessel, the 130-foot Golden West. As the Helena Star sank, is caused the Golden West to lean. Nearly 1,000 gallons of diesel and lube oil from the Helena Star spilled into the waterway. The Coast Guard, Department of Ecology, and the Tacoma Fire Department acted quickly to prevent further pollution by placing oil containment boom and absorbent materials around the two vessels. The Golden West’s owner later removed 10,500 gallons of recyclable oil at the request of the Coast Guard. Once the vessels were disentangled, the Golden West was able to float freely.

The Washington Department of Ecology’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program arranged for the Golden West to be towed from the site Oct. 16, clearing the way for the Helena Star removal.

The Hylebos Waterway was listed as a Superfund site in 1983, following the discovery of widespread contamination from more than a century of heavy industrial activity. A massive cleanup and restoration project has been underway since 2002. Keeping derelict vessels from adding to the contamination is critical to the cleanup effort.

Funding for the Helena Star removal effort comes from two main sources: the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund covers the cost to raise the vessel and remove any pollution threat; and a special, one-time legislative appropriation to the Derelict Vessel Removal Program will help fund the towing, dismantling, recycling, and disposal of the vessel.

In January, the Helena Star sank in the Hylebos Waterway, dragging the 130-foot fishing vessel Golden West over to an extreme angle. (PHOTO COURTESY WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY)

In January, the Helena Star sank in the Hylebos Waterway, dragging the 130-foot fishing vessel Golden West over to an extreme angle. (PHOTO COURTESY WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY)