Department of Ecology News Release - May 9, 2014

Deep Sea vessel owner receives deep-pocket penalty
owner fined $301,000 for oil spill

WHIDBEY ISLAND – The owner of a derelict vessel that burned and sank in Penn Cove nearly two years ago faces a $301,000 state fine for the resulting oil spill. The Washington Department of Ecology issued a penalty to Rory Westmorland of Oroville this week for the sinking and oil spill from the fishing vessel Deep Sea that occurred May 12 through June 3, 2012.

“This was a preventable spill,” said Dale Jensen, who manages Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program. “Ecology and the Coast Guard kept it from being much worse, but at taxpayer expense. Mr. Westmoreland failed to take responsibility for keeping his vessel seaworthy and secure.”

A fire, then a sinking and spill

The Deep Sea caught fire May 12 while illegally anchored on state-owned aquatic lands. Firefighting efforts began that night and continued through the next afternoon, but early in the evening of May 13 the 128-foot boat rolled to its port side and sank. Around midnight, oil began to leak from the Deep Sea and continued until the vessel was raised weeks later, on June 3, 2012.

Ecology determined that 5,555 gallons of oil was released. Diving contractors hired by the U.S. Coast Guard removed 3,100 gallons of oil from the sunken vessel. Ecology contractors continued to remove oil and re-floated the boat for safe removal by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Cleanup and removal at public expense

Westmoreland also failed to participate in or cooperate in the oil spill response. The fire response, oil spill response, and subsequent salvage and disposal were paid for and conducted by numerous public agencies. State agencies spent over $2.8 million on the incident. Ecology recovered $1.56 million from the National Pollution Fund Center for spill response expenses, including agency staff time and contracted services, including dive teams, boom deployment and tending. DNR spent $1.3 million to raise, transport and dispose of the vessel.

“Derelict vessels are an issue in our state and pose a serious threat to public safety and the health of marine and fresh water. Perhaps this fine will shed light on the fact that anyone who purchases an old boat is unlikely to profit from it, and there are many potential hazards associated with ownership,” said Jensen.

Environmental and other costs

During the incident the Department of Health closed harvesting from vital and popular commercial and recreational shellfish areas to protect the public from contamination. This resulted in economic losses to local businesses and families.

Ecology considers several factors when deciding the amount of the penalty. According to Jensen, this penalty is high because of the egregious nature of the incident.

“The vessel was illegally anchored in a highly sensitive area. The fact that the ongoing oil spill presented danger to the public for 21 days; the damage to the public resources in Penn Cove; and the refusal to cooperate with federal and state agencies during the spill response all factored into the equation.”

Penalties may be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.

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Contacts:

Larry Altose, communications manager, 425-649-7009, @ecyseattle

Dick Walker, spills response team, 425-941-7691