Sunday, April 27, 2014

The History of STORIS: An ignoble and illegal export -- Part 4

There was a strong suspicion that because STORIS was constructed in 1942, there was a high likelihood that the ship contained hazardous materials including Polychlorinated Biphenyls. PCBs were used in many different applications aboard ships and totally removing PCBs at regulated levels from a ship as old as STORIS would be practically impossible. Use of the ship as a museum vessel as planned by STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol would have been safe, as the materials on board would not have been disturbed. However, dismantling of the ship – particularly by a yard or by workers who were not trained or equipped to deal with PCBs – would expose these toxic materials to the environment.

While it is not against the law to export ships containing most hazardous materials from the U.S., it is a violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 to export materials from the U.S. in excess of 50 parts per million (ppm).

Read more about PCBs in marine applications here:

These concerns were first validated by the first-hand observation of suspect materials by Gary Whitney from Mare Island Ship Yard. Preservation consultant and STORIS Working Group member Jon Ottman contacted EPA Region IX in San Francisco on Oct. 21 to inquire about PCBs on STORIS and the legality of export for foreign scrapping. On Oct. 23, Ottman was assured by Christopher Rollins, EPA Region IX PCB enforcement officer, that there was documentation from the U.S. Coast Guard and GSA that proved STORIS was free of regulated PCBs. Rollins obviously never inspected the ship in person as he would have observed large quantities of undocumented wiring on board the ship that likely contained PCBs above regulated levels. These are the same materials that prompted MISY to avoid bidding on STORIS as a potential scrap candidate.

U.S. Metals Recovery finally produced insurance and Certificate of Financial Responsibility No. 870338-20 for the tow. The COFR was dated 10/25/2013. According to the terms of sale for STORIS through GSA, this was a document that was to have been provided to GSA to move the ship from the SBRF by July 12.

Pacific Tugboat Co.’s tug AN TILLETT, assisted by Greger Pacific Marine’s SILIA, moved STORIS from her mothball fleet berth and set up the tow late on the evening of Friday, Oct. 25. Despite the expressed concerns and the high probability that STORIS contained regulated PCBs, GSA, the U.S. Maritime Administration, EPA and U.S. Coast Guard allowed TILLETT and STORIS to depart San Francisco. This allowed the tow to get underway and head south with a two-day head start over the weekend while anyone with integrity in the government or who knew of the associated problems with the export could do nothing. This departure was almost FOUR FULL MONTHS after STORIS had been sold and well past the established so-called “firm” deadlines for the ship’s removal from Suisun Bay.

Meanwhile, late on the evening of Oct. 26, Ottman received a packet of information by email from a concerned third party that validated his concerns from earlier in the week regarding the potential for PCBs on board STORIS. The third party had read a wire story regarding the export of the ship and recognized that the export was a likely violation of U.S. federal law. The information received included copies of the deficient documents used by the government to allow the export of the ship.

By the time anyone could respond or try to intervene on Monday, the tow was nearing Los Angeles, just hours from Mexican territorial waters. Pacific Tugboat was contacted and informed of the potential problems they may be facing with towing a ship containing PCBs out of the country. Despite these last minute efforts to have various government officials intervene and stop the tow from leaving U.S. waters, the tow was allowed by EPA to proceed to Mexico, arriving in Ensenada on Oct. 29.

KMXT radio from Kodiak broadcast a story about the export:

The documents received on Oct. 26 are the only documents available that detail the issues related to STORIS and her haz-mat status. All of the communication between the involved government agencies and the buyer took place outside the public purview. Links to these documents will be posted as they are uploaded.

On November 4, a series of requests through the Federal Freedom of Information Act were submitted to the U.S. General Services Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Maritime Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. These FOIA requests are intended to secure correspondence and documents related to STORIS, her condition, excessing, sale and the associated actions that allowed her to be exported to Mexico for scrapping. Links to these FOIA requests will be posted, along with the responses from the various agencies.

Several legislators were also notified about the likelihood that the ship had been exported illegally. Since the ship was in Mexico and U.S. officials refused to directly intervene – particularly from the EPA – the matter was in the hands of the Mexican authorities.

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