Monday, April 28, 2014

MARAD releases first collection of FOIA information

On March 11, I received a packet of information from the U.S. Maritime Administration regarding my Freedom of Information Request for STORIS.

The release letter is here:

The information released is here:

The documentation includes photos of the ship being prepared for the tow by the AN TILLETT of Pacific Tug and the SILIA of Greger Pacific Marine. TILLETT was the tug responsible for the tow to Ensenada.

The MARAD paperwork is not overly comprehensive, but it validates the position that STORIS was in excellent physical condition. It shows that on at least one occasion, the issue of PCBs on board the ship was raised by William Cahill, ship operations manager at MARAD. There is no direct answer, just a reference elsewhere to the defective Coast Guard documentation claiming that the ship was PCB-free.

There is also a comment regarding the ship’s impending departure that reflects the drawn-out nature of the ship’s stay in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet well beyond the July 12 deadline for removal of the ship: “I guess they mean it this time.”

The buyer, Mark Jurisich and John Bryan of U.S. Metals Recycling, did not remove the ship or provide the necessary insurance for the removal of the ship by July 12 as required by the purchase agreement with the General Services Administration. Instead, GSA allowed Jurisich to spend the bulk of July and August trying to extort between $250,000 and $365,000 from STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol for the ship for which he and his partner paid $70,100. I was told by a reliable source that MARAD had given Jurisich until Sept. 22 to move the ship and he did not. The Coast Guard rent for the SBRF moorings ran out at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, yet STORIS was still there and would remain there for another 25 days.

Conspicuously absent from the information provided are any records of  communication with Jurisich and U.S. Metals regarding the ship, information that I had requested.

The government continues to hide behind Exemption 5 of the Federal FOIA laws. Exemption 5 of the federal Freedom of Information Act covers multiple privileges, including those that protect an attorney’s work product, attorney-client communications, and the “deliberative process.” According to MARAD’s letter,  “the deliberative process privilege protects the integrity of the deliberative or decision-making processes within the
agency by exempting from mandatory disclosure opinions, conclusions and recommendations, included within inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters. The release of this internal information would discourage the expression of candid opinions and inhibit the free and frank exchange of information among agency personnel.
Several sections of communication are subsequently redacted using Exemption 5 as the basis.”

It’s highly likely that key information about how these agencies were going to handle the situation with STORIS and how officials were going to cover themselves for wrongdoing or otherwise bungling the situation with the ship is being hidden using this aspect of FOIA exemption. I will be appealing the withholding of this information, especially since there really should be no secret aspects of STORIS’ situation. It’s not like a matter of national security.

MARAD has stated in messages to me and to others that it was not responsible for STORIS as the ship belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard and that MARAD was simply acting as a custodial host for the ship at the Suisun Bay moorings. However, they are complicit in this situation of the ship’s export knowing full well the aspects of the excessing and export that were improper and illegal. Instead, it is the typical game of government passing the buck. A large part of what MARAD is responsible for involves the proper disposal of vessels following applicable federal laws. There is also currently a memorandum of agreement in place between MARAD and the U.S. Coast Guard for the disposal of the former 180-foot Seagoing Buoy Tenders USCGC PLANETREE (WLB-307) and the USCGC IRIS (WLB-395). While the ships may have had different maintenance regimens over the years, both of the WLBs are of similar construction and materials as STORIS. The 180s are classified as “too dirty” with toxic materials such as PCBs to be sold for anything other than domestic scrapping, yet STORIS was allowed to be exported to Mexico, considered a “lesser-developed country” in regard to shipbreaking capability.

It was also pointed out in the March 12 posting related to the statement issued by Denise Rucker Krepp, former chief counsel for MARAD, that scrapping STORIS in Mexico violates Section 3502 of the 2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act which requires all U.S. government vessels to be scrapped at U.S. metal recycling facilities. The GSA sale of STORIS also violated 40 U.S.C. 548 which mandates that MARAD be responsible for disposing of vessels greater than 1,500 gross tons. STORIS displaced over 1,700 tons. It was MARAD that should have handled the ship’s excessing, NOT GSA.

MARAD officials knew that what was transpiring with STORIS was wrong and they did NOTHING.

The circumstances of the ship’s departure to Mexico are very suspect, particularly since the ship was allowed to leave without having the mandatory hull cleaning for invasive species and the tow departed late on a Friday evening to get a two-day head start for Mexico before anyone could intervene early the next week if there was any attempt to do so.

I have shared the information with people who are more familiar with the processes and the people involved and I hope to hear back with their expert analysis. I will share that when I get feedback.

(Originally posted March 26, 2014)

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