Sunday, April 27, 2014

MARAD claims STORIS a "custody ship"; complicit in illegal export, nonetheless

After her decommissioning on February 8, 2007, USCGC STORIS sailed in March under special commission to Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California. At Coast Guard Island, her crew worked on final deactivation of the ship before turning the vessel over to civilian contractors. These contractors performed the final work to the ship before she went into long-term storage at the U.S. Maritime Administration’s National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) at Suisun Bay near Benicia, California. STORIS was placed in storage at Suisun Bay in June 2007. This work included a bottom cleaning and painting as well as the blanking off of all hull openings such as sea chests, and engine exhausts.

The U.S. Coast Guard still retained ownership of STORIS, but paid rent for the moorings at the Suisun Bay moorings to the Maritime Administration (MARAD), which then treated STORIS as a “custody ship.” This differs from the other ships within the NDRF at Suisun Bay, which are directly controlled and under the federal ownership and administration of MARAD.

These ships are largely former Naval auxiliaries such as tankers and supply ships. These obsolete ships are also collectively known as “The Ghost Fleet.”

STORIS received minimal attention at Suisun Bay, other than occasional inspections to ensure the ship was not taking on any water. She was periodically moved as other vessels were removed from the fleet for relocation or scrapping.

Suisun Bay was the focal point of concern for environmental groups because of toxic materials contained on board the ships. The groups filed suit against MARAD due to these materials, including toxic paints that were sloughing off the hulls and into the water surrounding the moored vessels.

Read more about the pollution issues related to the Ghost Fleet at Suisun Bay at the following links:

For all intents and purposes, STORIS was not part of the problem at Suisun Bay as she was in excellent physical condition and her hull paint was in good condition, having been applied in 2006-7, in contrast to some of the Ghost Fleet ships that hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades.

Although STORIS was a custody ship at Suisun Bay, there are still matters of concern in relation to MARAD from our perspective as STORIS supporters.

These include:

- The fact that Mark Jurisich and John Bryan, dba U.S. Metals Recovery LLC of San Diego, as a stipulation of the purchase agreement, were given an initial deadline of July 12, 2013 by the General Services Administration to insure and remove STORIS from the Suisun Bay NDRF. U.S. Metals Recovery failed to do so, instead spending the rest of the summer trying to extort money from STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol. MARAD (and GSA for that matter) stood by and did nothing.

- According to a reliable source, MARAD gave U.S. Metals Recovery a firm deadline of September 22 to remove STORIS from the Suisun Bay moorings. That deadline came and went with no apparent penalty.

- The Coast Guard-subsidized rent for the moorings at Suisun Bay ran out September 30 and yet the ship remained at Suisun Bay past that deadline, as well.

- Ships that are to be removed from the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet to other locations beyond the San Francisco Bay area are required by law to have their bottoms cleaned, yet STORIS departed the Suisun Bay moorings October 25 and was towed directly to Ensenada.

As STORIS was en route to Ensenada, I sent urgent emails on Oct. 28 to the general counsel’s office of MARAD asking about the legality of allowing the ship to be exported, despite the high likelihood of PCBs being on board the ship.

I received a response indicating that STORIS was a custody ship and it was an issue to be taken up with the US Coast Guard. That correspondence is here:

The original Freedom of Information Act Request was submitted on Nov. 4 and received an acknowledgement on Nov. 7. The original submission and acknowledgement is here:

Then nothing.

I sent emails to Mitch Hudson, a high-ranking FOIA official within MARAD, on Dec. 8, Jan. 13 and Jan. 30, receiving no response. The Jan. 30 message was copied to the general counsel's office and still no response from the FOIA coordinator or legal staff:

I called the MARAD FOIA office on Feb. 4 and spoke with Andrew Larimore. He claimed that he was actually working on compiling the requested information related to STORIS and would be in touch with me within a couple of weeks. That time has come and gone and no updates. I will be following up this week.

Again, over 3 ½ months after original submission and I still have no documents from MARAD or any of the other agencies involved with STORIS and her export to Mexico.

Those of us who care about STORIS and the catastrophic turn of events that led to her destruction deserve to know the truth.

(Originally posted Feb. 22, 2014)

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