- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - A rusting, decrepit freighter that sank in Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway 18 months ago has been refloated and moved to Seattle in a salvage operation expected to cost at least $1.2 million.

The 167-foot Helena Star, once the subject of a major drug bust, sank in January 2013 and was slowly spilling 640 gallons of oil and diesel. Crews tried to raise it in December, but the single crane wasn’t enough to lift the ship without causing further damage. A team of two floating cranes raised it Tuesday so it could be drained of water, and a tugboat towed it to Seattle on Thursday, The News Tribune reported (https://is.gd/KFT2mg ).

The ship arrived at the Ballard Locks, which connect the salt water of Puget Sound with the fresh water of the Ship Canal, Thursday afternoon. It waited two hours before getting through, said Melissa Ferris, a manager with the state Department of Natural Resources.

“It got a lot of attention at the locks because it looks like a ghost ship with all sorts of things hanging off it,” she said.

The vessel will be checked for hazardous materials, including lead paint and asbestos, at the Stabbert Yacht and Ship facility, then dismantled and recycled, Ferris said.

The Star made headlines in 1978 when the Coast Guard found $74 million in marijuana on board.

The Ecology Department, the state Department of Natural Resources, the Coast Guard and Global Diving and Salvage of Seattle worked Wednesday to make sure the Star was stable enough to for the trip north. The five-day prep work involved clearing excess debris and patching 3- to 4-inch-wide holes in the vessel’s underbelly.

Stephen Mason, the ship’s owner, faces criminal charges for allowing the ship to fall into disrepair. A conviction could mean up to a year in jail and as much as a $10,000 fine. His next court date is Aug. 28.

The entire project - including dismantling and recycling - is expected to cost $1.2 million. If the ship is contaminated with asbestos, then the cost could go up, Ferris said.

State law says a ship’s owner is responsible for covering the full cost of removing and disposing derelict vessels, though the state usually foots the bill, according to an Associated Press investigation. Since 2003, only 1 percent of owners have repaid the Department of Natural Resources.

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Information from: The News Tribune, https://www.thenewstribune.com


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