Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Jim Shaw 

Dangerous Derelicts


September 1, 2017

The 113-year-old former US lightship Relief (LV 76) was raised from the bottom of Canada's Fraser River in June for inspection and tank sounding but will not be removed for disposal until river currents slacken this fall. Photo courtesy of M. Mulligan.

Old boats and ships neglected by their owners along the Pacific Coast have caused a considerable number of problems over the years and they don't seem to be going away. There are currently only a limited number of regulations that govern what might be called "derelicts" and they usually only come into play once the damage has already been done: the vessel sinks, pollutes, or is driven ashore or into somebody else's property by forces of nature.

Many of the vessels causing trouble are considered historical and are being kept around by their owners in the hopes that they can be saved and restored to their former glory. This brings to mind the art deco ferry Kalakala that had to be dismantled at Tacoma in 2015 and the more recent hauling out of an old LCI in Humboldt Bay that was in danger of sinking.

Other hulks are providing their owners with a service, such as storage or even accommodation, but most are receiving little to no maintenance in the process. One of the west coast's largest cleanups in this sector was the former Liberty Ship Davy Crockett which cracked in two and began leaking oil in the Columbia River during 2011 after being cut down as a barge by its owner. Unfortunately, the taxpayer or fee-payer of properly maintained vessels often ends up paying the bill when these derelicts become dangerous.

Columbia River

Such is the case on the Columbia River this year where the US Coast Guard and Oregon Department of State Lands are in the process of cleaning up a number of vessels moored near Goble, Oregon, including the former floating restaurant and one-time ferry River Queen. The latter, built in 1922 as the double-ended ferry Shasta, served for 18 years on San Francisco Bay and another 19 years on Puget Sound before being towed to Portland in 1959 to become a floating restaurant. It served in that capacity for more than three decades until it closed in the mid-1990s and eventually moved to Goble under the ownership of Clay Jonak and Roger Ison.

The two men soon added a fleet of smaller craft to their holdings, using an aquatics lands lease obtained from the Oregon Department of State Lands. This lease was terminated in May for their failure to comply with state environmental regulations after three of their smaller boats sank. Since then the Coast Guard has moved in to remove hazardous liquids and materials from the remaining vessels, with the expectation that the former ferry will have to be towed away from the site for demolition.

The full costs for the operation have yet to be determined but most of the Coast Guard's work will be covered by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund through the Columbia River Incident Management Division, with $345,000 already spent, while the Oregon Department of State Lands will use money from the Common School Fund for its portion of the cleanup.

Fraser River

On British Columbia's Fraser River another collection of derelict vessels is undergoing the same slow process of decay and may eventually require a similar expensive cleanup. Ironically, one of the boats is a sister to the former Shasta, the ancient San Mateo, which was built at San Francisco in the same year as Shasta but is now no longer buoyant and is slowly disintegrating alongside the larger Queen of Sidney near Mission, BC.

The 230-foot by 63-foot San Mateo was brought north to Canada from Puget Sound in the early 1990s following unsuccessful efforts to preserve her as a museum on Seattle's Lake Union. Although commercial use was planned for the old boat nothing materialized and she was left to decay on the riverbank, the hull filling with silt during heavy flooding in 2012 and most of the wooden house having since rotted away.

The 1960-built Queen of Sidney, a pioneer in the BC Ferries fleet, was retired in 2000 and moved alongside San Mateo in 2002 after being purchased by Bob and Gerald Tapp, owners of the older ferry. The brothers continue to use the larger vessel for covered storage space, and it has even served as a location for several television films, but local authorities worry about potential water and soil contamination. For now the future of the two boats is caught up in a "jurisdictional disagreement" between the Tapps and provincial, federal and municipal authorities as to which party is responsible for the decaying fleet.

Lost Lightship

The old ferries Queen of Sidney and San Mateo waste away near Mission, BC while caught up in a "jurisdictional disagreement" between owners and government officials as to who is responsible for the decaying vessels. Photo courtesy of A. Verde.

A former member of the Tapp collection, the 113-year-old Queen of East Vancouver, sank further down the river in March and had to be raised in a joint effort undertaken by the Western Canada Marine Response Cooperation and Canadian Coast Guard, but was returned to the river bottom when spring currents proved too strong for salvage. It is expected that the once-historic vessel will be brought back to the surface again later this year for disposal after releasing an undetermined amount of oil.

Built by Burlee Drydock Co of New York in 1904 as the lightship Relief (LV 76) for US Pacific coast service, the vessel was decommissioned in 1960 and, like San Mateo, moved to British Columbia when plans to use it as a museum in Seattle failed. It operated as a coastal freighter and fishing boat under the names Claire Anne and Maudi Morgan until moved up the Fraser to Mission in 2008 where it was berthed alongside Tapp's Queen of Sidney. However, its owner, Michael Montgomery, repositioned the vessel several hundred feet downstream where it eventually sank from undetermined causes leaving its disposal in the hands of the taxpayer.


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