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Feds go after owners of Helena Star, sunken boat that spilled oil into Hylebos

Workers from Ballard Diving move containment booms that surround the partially submerged MV Helena Star in Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway in November 2013. The United States recently sued the ship’s six owners for the cost of environmental cleanup required after it sank in the Hylebos in 2013.
Workers from Ballard Diving move containment booms that surround the partially submerged MV Helena Star in Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway in November 2013. The United States recently sued the ship’s six owners for the cost of environmental cleanup required after it sank in the Hylebos in 2013. Staff file, 2013

It cost a lot to clean up the Helena Star after the 167-foot boat sank in 2013 and spilled oil into Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway.

And the owners need to pay for it, the federal government said in a recent lawsuit.

“The precise amount of unpaid removal costs and damages sustained by the United States presently exceeds $633,898.06,” the Department of Justice said in a complaint filed July 11 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

The suit names six different owners, including Stephen Mason, who pleaded guilty in October 2014 to abandoning the vessel and polluting state waters.

The state Attorney General’s Office said in a news release about the plea:

“The Helena Star was acquired in 2010 by California investors who hired Mason to scrap the vessel on his property adjacent to the Hylebos Waterway. Mason did not finish the job, instead leaving the vessel dormant on his property as it continued to deteriorate.”

A number listed for Mason had been disconnected when The News Tribune called it Friday.

The torts branch of the Department of Justice declined to answer questions about the complaint, including whether the money was for the removal of the boat, the oil, or both.

The Helena Star sank Jan. 25, 2013, and sent hundreds of gallons of fuel and oil into the Hylebos, the state said.

Cleanup was finished in July the next year when crews raised the boat from the waterway and took it to be scrapped in Seattle.

It had been tied to the 130-foot Golden West, another derelict vessel in the Hylebos, which was removed in October 2013.

Following Mason’s guilty plea, he was ordered to pay $300,000 to the state for the Helena Star’s cleanup. The lawsuit doesn’t say what, if anything, Mason and the others already have paid for the operation.

As part of the plea, Mason agreed to help get restitution from other Helena Star investors.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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