When the Coast Guard removed 20,000 gallons of oil and other contaminants from two junk ships entangled at the head of the Hylebos Waterway last year, officials thought they’d averted an environmental disaster.
The 167-foot Helena Star and the 130-foot Golden West still would make a mess if they broke apart or took on water, but at least there wouldn’t be a large scale spill.
And then – surprise.
In May, inspectors discovered a hidden secret on the Golden West – 10,500 additional gallons of oil that had gone unnoticed.
This week more progress was made when most of the oil was pumped out and hauled away.
“The oil was in deep tanks on the bottom of the vessel,” state Department of Ecology spokeswoman Linda Kent said this week.
“Previously, the Coast Guard hired a contractor to remove oil from both the Helena Star and the Golden West — in early 2012. They did the best they could by pumping out tanks from the fill and vent pipes. They pumped until no more oil came out, but that wasn’t all of it.”
The discovery of the hidden oil started yet another chapter in the complicated saga of the two ships, which burst into public view Jan. 25 when the Helena Star sank at its moorage in front of Mason Marine Services. On its way down, the Helena Star entangled the Golden West, raising concerns that it, too, would sink or start taking on water.
The owner, Steven Mason, who had the vessels towed to Mason Marine, declared bankruptcy the next month.
Since then, the Ecology Department has been trying to locate responsible parties and get them to remove the two vessels. Residual oil continues to seep from the Helena Star, and it periodically leaves a sheen on surrounding water.
“Right now what’s going on is we’re trying to find a funding source,” Kent said.
Whether state and federal sources will be available to take over removal of the derelict vessels if the owners don’t comply with the enforcement order remains a big unknown, she said.
Funding sources employed by the Coast Guard and Ecology Spill Response aren’t available for salvage operations — they’re limited to addressing oil spills and cleaning up the environment. The Ecology Department and the Coast Guard are looking for money from other state and federal agencies for potential salvage operations.
The good news?
On Monday and Tuesday, the Golden West’s owners hired a contractor to pump the hidden oil off the vessel and into vacuum trucks onshore. About 1,000 gallons of oily water also was pumped from the vessel’s bilge, Kent said.
That reduces the pollution threat, Kent said. However, 100 percent of the oil on board can’t be removed while the vessel remains in the water, she said. Small amounts of residual oil remain trapped in spaces in tanks and machinery.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693