- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - Criminal charges have been filed against the owners of two derelict vessels that recently sank and leaked hundreds of gallons of fuel into Puget Sound, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday.

“These derelict vessels have caused substantial environmental damage,” and the owners should be held accountable, Ferguson said at a news conference in Seattle with Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

Stephen C. Mason was charged in Pierce County Superior Court with causing the 167-foot Helena Star to become abandoned, and discharging pollutants into state waters. The Helena Star sank last January in the Hylebos Waterway and took down another vessel tied to it.

Separately, Anthony R. Smith was charged in Kitsap County Superior Court with theft, causing a vessel to become abandoned and discharging pollutants into state waters. The state alleges Smith failed to pay moorage fees after moving the 57-foot historic tugboat Chikamauga to Eagle Harbor Marina in February 2013 and also failed to address the deteriorating condition of his boat. The tugboat sank last October, dumping a few hundred gallons of petroleum products into the water.

Listed numbers for both Mason and Smith could not be found. It was unknown whether they had attorneys. A number listed for Mason’s company, Mason Marine Services, was disconnected. Court records show the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Ferguson said the charges are the first environmental crimes involving derelict vessels to be filed by the state of Washington in recent years.

The maximum penalty for abandoning the vessel is 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

“Today’s work is a huge step in the process of holding these owners responsible,” said Goldmark, who leads the Department of Natural Resources. The agency has removed more than 500 abandoned boats from state waters since the Derelict Vessel Program began in 2002.

DNR is currently working on a pilot program to take back derelict boats from owners and to hold vessel owners more accountable.

State officials say it will likely cost more than $500,000 to remove the Helena Star and dismantle it.

Efforts to raise the Helena Start last month were put on hold after crews determined it was too deteriorated to lift out of the water. Federal, state and local officials last week decided to postpone raising and removing it until mid-summer, because work in water cannot be done when salmon are migrating.

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