Department of Ecology News Release - January 28, 2013


Owner of derelict barge Davy Crockett fined $405,000 by Ecology for Columbia River oil spill during illegal salvage operation

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is fining Bret A. Simpson and his company Principle Metals LLC $405,000 for spilling oil and 40 days of ongoing environmental harm from continuing oil leaks to the Columbia River from the 431-foot derelict barge Davy Crockett during an illegal in-water scrapping operation.

The 2011 spill prompted a 295-day, multi-state, multi-agency response that cost taxpayers $22 million in federal funds and more than $680,000 in state monies. 

For a 10-month span from January through November 2011, Ecology, U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard) and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (Oregon DEQ) worked in partnership to prevent a catastrophic release of oil and other hazardous materials aboard the former Liberty ship. Responders had to first stabilize the broken vessel to alleviate the risk to structures and other vessels downriver, then contain, remove and dispose of the vessel. Eventually, responders removed about 38,000 gallons of oil from the barge.

Before they could dismantle and remove the partially sunken barge, state and federal responders had to construct an 850-linear-foot cofferdam to keep the river from being further contaminated by oil and other pollutants on board the vessel. 

Simpson offered no assistance or cooperation in the response, cleanup or scrapping of the Davy Crockett. On July 12, 2012, he pleaded guilty to two criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

Ecology Spills Program Manager Dale Jensen said: “Responding to the Davy Crockett was complex, time-consuming and costly. This incident was illegal and completely preventable – and the resulting spill harmed the Columbia River ecosystem. Had Mr. Simpson or his company sought a permit to dismantle the Davy Crockett in water, we would have refused. He would have been directed to do the work in a permitted shipyard to protect our waters. Instead, he began scrapping the barge without the benefit of any professional advice. By the time he broke the barge in half, the damage was done.”

The Davy Crockett response highlighted the public health, safety and environmental problems derelict and abandoned vessels pose to Washington and Oregon waters, spurring the creation of the Columbia River Derelict Vessel Task Force. Member agencies include Ecology, Oregon DEQ, Coast Guard, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.   

The task force has identified more than 50 vessels of concern in the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers. Task force members are focused on improving multi-agency response coordination, identifying regulatory gaps and recommending improvements. Legislation has been introduced in both the Washington and Oregon legislatures to address the derelict vessel challenge.

In Washington, DNR is responsible for prioritizing and removing abandoned and derelict vessels, while Ecology is responsible for responding to incidents involving derelict vessels that spill oil and hazardous materials.

There are estimated 230 derelict vessels in Washington.

Jensen said: “Our top priority is always to prevent spills from occurring, because the moment oil hits water it begins causing damage. The new task force is an important step forward in prevention efforts. When negligent spills occur, we must hold those responsible accountable. That’s the law, and it’s also the right thing to do.”

Uncontrolled oil and hazardous materials from the Davy Crockett posed a direct risk to the environment until the last piece of the barge was removed Aug. 25, 2011.

In setting the penalty amount for the Davy Crockett spill, Ecology determined that:

Any derelict vessel can cause significant harm to the environment and be expensive to clean up and remove.  Large commercial vessels that become derelict and contain large amounts of oil and fuel can carry greater risk to environment, and pose more complex and costly clean up and removal problems.

For example, in May and June 2012, some of the world’s most productive commercial shellfish beds had to be closed for almost two months after the derelict fishing vessel Deep Sea caught on fire, sank and spilled oil in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. The incident cost the state $2.6 million to respond, clean up and remove the vessel.


Media Contact: Linda Kent, Ecology media relations, 360-407-6239; 360-791-9830 (cell);

For more information:

Ecology’s Davy Crockett incident website (

Deep Sea Oil Spill incident website (

Ecology’s social media (