Sunday, April 27, 2014
The History of STORIS: Farewell to The Queen -- Part 8
With STORIS in the scrapyard in Mexico and the U.S. Government refusing to intervene, the situation with the ship was desperate. STORIS did receive additional media coverage.
Reportedly, some STORIS veterans made anonymous reports to various Mexican officials of radioactivity on board the ship. That resulted in a major raid on the scrapyard by Mexican authorities looking for radioactive contamination and explosives. They didn't find anything as there would have been no such materials aboard, but the Mexicans took the report seriously and it was helpful as it got them aboard the vessel. It also confirmed her exact location within the scrapyard.
A story of the raid, in Spanish: http://ensenada.net/noticias/nota.php?id=32104
These Mexican news stories can be translated using Google Translate http://translate.google.com/ or Bing Translator http://www.bing.com/translator.
In mid-November, we finally were able to correspond with Mexican environmental officials from SEMARNAT and PROFEPA to discuss the high certainty that the ship was exported with illegal levels of PCBs in old wiring that had been bypassed and abandoned in place on the ship. This wiring was not documented by the Coast Guard as being on the ship and if it contained amounts of PCBs above 50 ppm – which is very likely – then the excessing and sale through the Coast Guard and GSA was illegal, let alone the export from the U.S. to Mexico.
Meanwhile, officials from the U.S. EPA, including William Noggle, an official within EPA who deals specifically with import/export and disposal of PCBs, refused to get involved with the issue related to STORIS. We suspect that for them to do so would be to admit they made a mistake in allowing the ship to be exported, particularly after they were warned prior to the ship's departure on Oct. 25 that there was a high probability the ship had PCBs on board.
EPA’s position was that the paperwork provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and GSA showed that the ship was free of regulated PCBs. Even when the documentation from former STORIS crewmen was shared with EPA, that agency held their position that there was nothing they could/would do. (See attached email memo between Bill Noggle of EPA and Jon Ottman of the STORIS Working Group.)
The Mexican authorities with SEMARNAT and PROFEPA agreed that the documentation shared with them was enough to perform tests for PCBs and other hazardous materials on the ship sometime between Friday, November 29, and Tuesday, December 3.
Again, in Spanish: http://www.ensenada.net/noticias/nota.php?id=32118
It was our hope that the Mexican authorities would find the PCBs we strongly believed to be on the ship and demand that the ship be repatriated to the U.S. for proper disposal.
Despite several inquiries from Jon Ottman in the days and weeks that followed, however, Mexican authorities never revealed what was discovered in the PCB testing they supposedly performed on STORIS.
At one point, Mexican authorities indicated that they may conduct some physical testing on STORIS but immediately allow the scrapyard to begin dismantling the ship while environmental technicians conducted further testing on the pieces as they were removed from the vessel. This approach seems to be counter to common sense as this dismantling would expose the toxic materials believed to be on board without allowing time for the appropriate procedures necessary to properly test the materials. This is a case of literally opening the proverbial can of worms or, even worse, Pandora’s Box. AGAIN, THERE ARE NO FACILITIES IN MEXICO CAPABLE OF PROPERLY DISPOSING OF PCBs.
Sadly, this is apparently what was allowed to happen, as in early December, we received photos that clearly showed that STORIS had been moved to the drydock and that dismantling was underway on the ship. This, with no word from Mexican authorities about PCB test results. Photos received on December 28 showed the exhaust stack and whole upper superstructure had been removed from the vessel. There was no going back.
An American news service reporter who speaks fluent Spanish was in contact with Jon Ottman in mid-January to follow up with the story lead from BAN about the export of the ship to Mexico. Apparently she talked directly to the chemist who conducted the tests on the samples from STORIS and he claimed that there were no PCBs or toxic materials found, so dismantling was allowed to proceed. And it was, at a quick pace. However, the reporter casually mentioned that she was told that all of the materials being removed from the ship that are related to the electrical system are being returned to the U.S. for recycling. That was a critical revelation in a short statement. That would involve hundreds of pounds of valuable copper. The ONLY reason the Mexicans would send those materials back to the U.S. for recycling is because of PCB content in the wiring, insulation, cabling and conduit.
And even that doesn't account for the PCB-impregnated paint that we know would be encapsulated under years of paint on the interior of the ship. Torching the steel will release the PCBs into the environment.
It was recommended that the reporter request from the Mexican authorities copies of the associated documents for the PCB tests allegedly performed on STORIS to determine what areas were sampled on the ship, what testing protocols were followed and what the actual results were. So far, despite two attempts at following up with the reporter to see whether she followed up or received any further information, there has been no response from her.
And so the Mighty STO, Queen of the Fleet, is no more.
She served with honor and valor for over 64 years and 5 months with the promise of decades of further service ahead of her as a museum and monument to U.S. Coast Guard history and achievement. Instead, she was sold out by a corrupt and indifferent government, the very same government that she faithfully served for so many years.
We are reminded of the final message transmitted when an earlier Queen of the Fleet, USCGC CAMPBELL (WHEC-32) was sunk on 29 November 1984 as a SINKEX target in the mid-Pacific.
To rephrase the spirit of the CAMPBELL farewell message as an epitaph for STORIS:
SUBJ: FINAL FAREWELL
I SERVED WITH HONOR FOR ALMOST SIXTY-FIVE YEARS, IN WAR AND PEACE, IN THE ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC, FROM THE GREENLAND PATROLS TO THE BERING SEA. WITH DUTY AS DIVERSE AS SEARCH AND RESCUE TO FISHERIES ENFORCEMENT. AND FROM SAVING LIVES, TRAINING GENERATIONS OF COAST GUARD HEROES TO BEING YOUR FLAGSHIP, I HAVE BEEN ALWAYS READY TO SERVE.
MOURN NOT, ALL WHO HAVE SAILED WITH ME, FOR I SHALL LIVE ON IN YOUR HEARTS AND MEMORIES. I BID ADIEU.
THE QUEEN IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE QUEEN.
And so we bid farewell to CGC STORIS, Queen of the Fleet.
But the story is not over. STORIS may be gone, but in the spirit of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty, we have pledged to carry on with the intent of finding what truth can be found and accountability for those responsible for this crime against history.
We hope that you join us in this quest and will lend support to our efforts on behalf of the Mighty STO.
Posted by USCGC STORIS - Life and Death of a CG Queen at 8:13 PM