Tuesday, August 5, 2014

MARAD sends second partial release of STORIS info

As stated last week, another FOIA release has been received from the US Maritime Administration. The cover letter is here: http://goo.gl/0Jc2r1 and the documents are here: http://goo.gl/0hqc9f.

Overall, it is safe to say that MARAD FOIA officials were too heavy with their redactions. Big surprise.

There are over 100 pages in this release. However, the information as a whole is not exactly helpful and raises more questions as over 60 pages involve documents to/from the U.S. Coast Guard and these pages were redacted. An additional three pages involved GSA and those, too, were withheld. These documents have supposedly been forwarded by MARAD to the respective agencies to determine whether or not the information can be released and, if so, those agencies will release the information to me.

Not very promising, considering that GSA is now 48 days late in providing the materials from the FOIA that I sent specifically to that agency nine months ago yesterday. GSA FOIA officials assured me that the information would be received on or before June 18 after they decided to waive over $10,000 in fees associated with the request. The Coast Guard has also not been cooperative, withholding information or just being deceitful in what has been provided so far.

It is interesting that they withheld letters from the California State Lands Commission (pg 102-103), which likely related to the state’s interests with bottomlands conservation and invasive species safeguards. A FOIA request has been submitted to the State of California for any information the State Lands Commission may have on STORIS. As you know, she was towed directly from Suisun Bay to Ensenada without having her bottom inspected or cleaned for invasive species.

The FOIA submitted to the California State Lands Commission is here: http://goo.gl/45N2KK

 Additional information is redacted because of the "deliberative process" privilege, which allows the government to withhold information based on the position that MARAD officials were discussing how they were going to handle policy and procedure. The problem is, much of the information that we need to have answered as to how and why the ship was allowed to be illegally sold and illegally exported would be part of that discussion. As pointed out in other appeals, it is the burden of the agency to explain how information withheld based on the deliberative process fits in to their decision-making process and ultimately, if the withheld information was factored into the final decision, it has to be released. An appeal will be filed including that position from our perspective.

It’s also very hard for the government to argue that there is no public interest or benefit in releasing this information.

I am very curious as to how the documentation in the MARAD release corresponds with what the CG has released. I suspect that there is paperwork in the MARAD release, though redacted and useless, that was not acknowledged by the CG in its FOIA response to me.
Some highlights:

On Pg 9 – there is a reference to clearance from the U.S. State Department in relation to the ship being exported. That raises some additional questions as to what the State Department had to do with STORIS’ export. I will have to pursue that further. It may have been something to do with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) or Regional Security and Arms Transfers (RSAT) since STORIS was constructed as a military ship and was being sent out of the country.

Pg 35 – There is a reference by Joe Pecoraro, the superintendent of the MARAD reserve fleet, remarking on the good condition of the ship, that she would have been a good museum ship candidate.

Pg 68 -  A very interesting detail from MARAD: STORIS was the anchor for the row that she was located in at Suisun Bay and her removal required extensive planning and execution. This, combined with other ships scheduled to be removed from the SBRF meant that the ship would not have been able to be moved until Aug 27. This is the first heard of that. The GSA deadline in the auction was July 12, so that conflicts greatly. If the GSA and Coast Guard wanted to get rid of STORIS so badly and so quickly, why wasn’t that worked out/coordinated with MARAD sooner so that it was understood that STORIS wasn’t going to be moved by July 12, just two weeks after the late June auction?

Even so, the ship was not moved in September, then the Coast Guard’s paid rent for the ship ran out at the end of the month. Then the government shutdown went into effect. All the while, the ship’s buyer, Mark Jurisich of U.S. Metals Recovery, was making his plans to illegally export STORIS to Mexico for scrap while trying to extort $250,000 for the ship from the nonprofit STORIS Museum and Last Patrol. That was some 357% more than he paid for her through the questionable GSA auction.

While these dates may explain how Jurisich got away with leaving the ship for so long in the SBRF, it does not explain how he was allowed to buy the ship in the first place, considering the undocumented hazardous materials we strongly believe were on board would have made the sale illegal through federal law. There is also the matter of the ship being illegally sold through GSA, as her tonnage exceeded that of which GSA is allowed to dispose. Instead, MARAD should have handled STORIS’ disposal. Finally, there is the matter of the government allowing STORIS’ export when, as a U.S. military vessel, Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 would have required her scrapping to be handled in the U.S.

Finally, the photos of her sea chests for the blanking are sickening to see as they show what good condition her hull was in.

STORIS did not deserve this.

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