A 700-ton crane barge arrived on the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma early Thursday morning to prepare to lift the 167-foot derelict vessel Helena Star, which sank at the old Mason Marine location on Jan. 25.
Prior to the arrival of the DB General crane barge, crews working with the U.S. Coast Guard, Washington State Department of Ecology, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the Tacoma Fire Department, and Ballard Marine Construction prepared the Helena Star for lifting by installing a lift pipe through holes in the bow that were cut by divers, threading a large chain through the lift pipe to attach to the crane on the DB General, installing a heavy cable to the stern of the vessel and anchoring it securely to shore to stabilize the vessel as it is lifted, removing masts, antennae and other items from the vessel that could snag on the chain, encircling the vessel with a “silt curtain” to control sediments in the water—or “turbidity,” which can affect light and harm aquatic habitat and fish, and encircling the vessel with oil containment boom.
“Our first priority for this operation is safety for responders, the public, mariners, and nearby businesses,” said Washington State Department of Ecology On-scene Coordinator Jim Sachet. “This vessel has been monitored since the day it sank, and precautions such as surrounding it with oil containment boom have been in place since that time.”
“The Helena Star is a cautionary tale,” said Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “People may buy an old vessel in a state of disrepair, thinking they can refurbish it or sell it for scrap and make a profit. Far too often, these dreams become nightmares when a boat sinks or goes adrift, and the citizens of our state end up footing the bill—not only for removing the vessel but for cleaning up any environmental damage it might cause.”
When the Helena Star sank in January, nearly 600 gallons of diesel and lube oil from the vessel spilled into the waterway. The U.S. Coast Guard, Washington State 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 and using a skimmer to recover oil within the boom. The vessel has continued to sheen oil off and on since it sank, but the oil has been contained, according to officials.
The U.S. Coast Guard will oversee the raising of the vessel and removal of any pollution threats. Funding for this part of the operation comes from the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Once there is no longer a threat of an oil spill or hazardous materials release, the vessel becomes the responsibility of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Derelict Vessel Removal Program. That agency will arrange for the vessel to be towed to a dry dock in Seattle where it will be hauled out, dismantled, recycled and disposed of. The funding for this portion of the operation comes from a special, one-time legislative appropriation to the program. An overall estimate of costs to raise, tow and dispose of the vessel is not yet available, as many factors are still unknown, including the condition of the vessel and what kinds of hazardous materials might be on board, such as asbestos.
More information is available online here.
UPDATE: On Fri., Dec. 6 @ 10:15 a.m., Washington State Department of Natural Resources officials reported the following:
Crews working to lift the sunken Helena Star have determined the vessel is in such poor condition a threat exists that the vessel will break apart if raised as planned. Crews lifted the vessel for a first look on Thursday, pulling the ship from its side onto its keel, and then set the vessel back down. This allowed divers to take a closer look at the vessel, including the port (left) side, which had been resting on the bottom. A release of a few gallons of oil occurred when the vessel was moved. The oil remained within the oil containment boom surrounding the vessel, however, a few patches of sheen were observed outside the boom. Additional response equipment was deployed to recover oil inside the boom. Crews also deployed another layer of oil containment boom. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard, state departments of Natural Resources and Ecology, Tacoma Fire Department and Ballard Marine Services are working to assess the safest options for cleaning the vessel and removing it from the Hylebos based on information provided by dive teams.
To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Golden West and Helena Star sinking in Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway, click on the following links:
- Work begins to remove derelict Helena Star vessel from Hylebos Waterway (Tacoma Daily Index, November 20, 2013)
- Work begins Saturday to remove sunken ships on Hylebos Waterway (Tacoma Daily Index, October 18, 2013)
- Dept. of Ecology orders sinking Helena Star removed from Hylebos Waterway (Tacoma Daily Index, April 1, 2013)
- 2 boats sink in Hylebos Waterway near Tacoma (Tacoma Daily Index, January 25, 2013)