Crews removing sunken Helena Star from Hylebos Waterway

Crews were working Tuesday to remove a derelict freighter that sank last year in the Hylebos Waterway.

The 167-foot Helena Star sank Jan. 25, 2013, spilling 640 gallons of diesel and oil into the Tacoma waters.

The state Department of Ecology, state Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Coast Guard, Tacoma Fire, and Global Diving and Salvage were working Tuesday to remove the boat.

Crews raised the vessel with a crane in December to inspect it, but put it back down due to its age.

Because the removal is complex, it is unknown when the work will be complete, the Department of Ecology said.

The Helena Star eventually will be towed to Stabbert Yacht and Ship Shipyard in Seattle to be taken apart and recycled, the state said earlier this year.

A fishing vessel that was tied to the boat and went down with it, the 130-foot Golden West, was moved Oct. 16.

The Helena Star made News Tribune headlines in 1978, when the Coast Guard seized the 1940s-era vessel and found $74 million in marijuana on board, the biggest pot bust in the area at that time.

Federal oil-spill money and funding approved by the Legislature after the spill will pay for the operation to move the vessel, though the state didn’t know earlier this year what the cost would be. Work to clean up the spill cost about $500,000.

The removal was delayed until now, in part because work earlier this year might have harmed migrating salmon.

Stephen Mason, owner of Mason Marine Services, was charged in January with causing a vessel to become abandoned or derelict and discharging polluting matters into state waters. A conviction for those charges can mean up to a year in jail and as much as a $10,000 fine.

Mason did not immediately return a News Tribune request for comment Tuesday.

“The cost of raising the Helena Star will help determine the amount of restitution Mr. Mason may owe if convicted,” said Alison Dempsey-Hall, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office.

She said that money would go to the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Account, which funds agencies such as the Department of Ecology to take care of vessels like the Helena Star.

Mason’s next court date in the case is Aug. 28, Dempsey-Hall said.