Monday, April 28, 2014

STORIS not the first Queen to be dishonored: CGC ACUSHNET pt. 1


STORIS and ACUSHNET share the dock at Kodiak in 2005.

The sale of STORIS is not the first time that the Coast Guard and GSA teamed up to break the law. In a similar breach of established legal requirements, rather than seek a museum recipient for USCGC ACUSHNET (WMEC-167), Coast Guard turned the ship over to GSA, which sold her within a week of her March 2011 decommissioning. GSA obviously has no concern for historic preservation, despite the meaningless rhetoric on their Web site about the agency’s dedication to preservation of our country’s historic properties. (In the case of STORIS, it’s not like the $70,100 they brought in for the sale was any substantial income with the way our government burns through money. On the other hand, the economic and cultural loss for the Great Lakes region and NW Ohio is inestimable.)

Built during WWII as the Diver-Class salvage ship USS SHACKLE (ARS-9), ACUSHNET served at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She earned the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (3), World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal (with Asia clasp) and three battle stars before being transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1946. On Feb. 18, 1952, she was instrumental in the daring rescue of 18 crewmen from the stricken tanker FORT MERCER. This was the same storm where coxswain Bernie Webber of motor lifeboat CG-36500, from Station Chatham, MA, and his crew of three rescued the crew of the stricken tanker PENDLETON, broken in half during the horrific storm off the coast of Massachusetts. ACUSHNET also participated in the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. For her Coast Guard career, ACUSHNET earned two Coast Guard Unit Commendations, five Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations w/ Operational Distinguishing Device, 11 Coast Guard “E” Ribbons and two CG Unit Commendations.

More here:

As indicated by attorney Denise Rucker Krepp's statement posted below on March 12, the scrapping of STORIS in Mexico violated 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 also violates 40 U.S.C. 548, which mandates that MARAD be responsible for disposing of vessels greater than 1,500 gross tons. Then there are the issues of the export of a U.S.-flagged vessel that almost certainly contained regulated levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls. This would have violated the export regulations of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).

During the pre-decommissioning process, ACUSHNET and STORIS were surveyed together for environmental contamination and historic significance. Both ships were identified as eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Coast Guard was required by federal law to complete the nomination paperwork for the ships but the CG did not. There was no statutory deadline, so CG never nominated the ships. It wasn’t until I wrote the nomination for STORIS in 2012 that she was officially listed as nationally significant on the National Register. ACUSHNET was never nominated, though she should have been. In my professional estimation, ACUSHNET easily meets the criteria to be designated as nationally significant on her own merits as well as her existence as last of the 18 very successful and accomplished Diver-Class vessels. When STORIS was decommissioned, ACUSHNET assumed the title of “Queen of the Fleet.”

Decommissioned on March 11, 2011, ACUSHNET was sold by GSA March 17 for the inflated price of just over $600,000 to a private buyer (with lofty dreams financed with borrowed money). She was subsequently moved under her own power from Ketchikan to Seattle. The buyer claimed to want the ship for use as a dive support ship in Belize or off the Great Barrier reef, depending on what account you read. However, under the terms of the purchase agreement, he received the ship in “as-is” condition with emptied fuel tanks and missing navigation electronics. He didn’t have money to fully fuel the ship and properly equip her for such a long voyage. Other, more recent reports indicate he wants to turn her into a “superyacht” with a hot tub in which charter clients “can sip champagne with supermodels” (seriously?) or as an anti-piracy vessel equipped with super-fancy, non-lethal deterrents.

No matter what his plans, his proposals would ultimately desecrate the ship by compromising ACUSHNET’s physical and historic integrity. While he touts ACUSHNET as “the most historic (or blessed, depending on the version) ship in the U.S.,” his plans – should he find a financial backer – would ultimately destroy what makes the ship historic. Either that, or any pending litigation for failure to pay dockage, towing or other bills would put her fate in the hands of the courts or debt-collectors who could care less about her historic status. She could very well end up like STORIS, as scrap.

There was an unsuccessful attempt last fall to sell ACUSHNET on Ebay for a “buy-it-now” price of $10 million. The eBay posting is rather revealing of the situation she is in:

The eBay link expired, so the grabs of the listings are here:  

2013 listing -

May 2014 listing

ACUSHNET is currently for sale for that same $10 million (or best offer, serious inquiries only…) through a ship broker in Cordova, AK.

At last report, ACUSHNET is located somewhere in the Seattle/Bremerton/Anacortes area in Washington State, being shuffled from dock to dock in an apparent attempt to avoid dockage fees. At one point, during a late night attempt to move the ship with a skeleton crew, the owner got ACUSHNET in trouble during a heavy storm. The anchors were dropped but the rodes were fouled. The Coast Guard was called in to assist and the chains were cut from the windlasses, leaving her anchors on the bottom. Rumor has it that, because she currently has no anchors, she is not allowed to get underway by the Coast Guard as no anchors = a safety issue. The buyer’s Ebay site has had several SCBA tanks for auction, so it appears that the ship’s equipment may be in the process of being sold off in a piecemeal fashion.

STORIS is gone and ACUSHNET is threatened because of government corruption and incompetence. It would be nice to save ACU, but not at the ridiculous price of $10 million. This is another outrageous situation that should never been allowed to happen by the government and another blow to the preservation and appreciation of Coast Guard, Navy and U.S. maritime heritage.

In short, the Coast Guard and GSA have previous experience in FUBAR policy prior to the tragedy and situation with STORIS in 2013 demonstrated by how they handled ACUSHNET in 2011. MARAD should have handled ACUSHNET, as her displacement exceeds 1,900 tons. Only today, it was brought up that the former USNS COMET is available for museum donation through MARAD, so that agency clearly handles ships eligible for National Register listing, making them available for museum status. How STORIS and ACUSHNET slipped through and were allowed to go through the corrupt GSA system defies explanation.

(Originally posted April 7, 2014)

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