Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MARAD releases third set of documents; more questions arise

The U.S. Maritime Administration has sent a third set of documents related to the original Nov. 4, 2013 Freedom of Information Act request.

Once again, redaction has stricken key elements of information from the documents. As before, with all the agencies that have responded to this point, MARAD is using Exemption 5 for deliberative, pre-process discussion as well as attorney-client privilege. Much of this information would have direct bearing on how MARAD handled the STORIS situation and is key to gaining a full understanding of how the ship was allowed to be sold and exported. All of these points will have to be argued on appeal for the redaction and withholding of information. If these officials did nothing wrong and their decisions were sound, then why are they withholding information? The correspondence between MARAD officials regarding STORIS is also marked as “low importance,” which says a lot about their attitude about the ship and the related situation.

Pg 2-3 – There is discussion among MARAD officials regarding the ship’s departure and whether or not the ship is truly free of regulated PCBs. MARAD officials claim that they are not responsible for the issues related to STORIS as the ship belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard and she was merely a “custody ship” at the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet. Therefore, it is MARAD’s position that the regulations and court-ordered procedures for issues such as hull cleaning for invasive species and removal of potential pollution did not apply to STORIS. A lot of this communication is a matter of MARAD officials covering themselves to absolve the agency and those involved from any kind of wrongdoing.

The fact that MARAD officials themselves seemed to be questioning whether STORIS was actually free of regulated PCBs is important. I think they knew that the ship had to have some kind of contamination that would have been problematic for excessing and foreign dismantling. How could they not know, considering it’s their job to handle obsolete ships, many of which were of the same type of construction and vintage as STORIS?

Conspicuously absent in all of this correspondence is any reference to Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 which set into federal law the requirement that U.S. government vessels have to be dismantled in U.S. ship recycling facilities. STORIS was allowed to be exported for dismantling in a substandard scrap facility in Ensenada. MARAD officials should also have recognized that it was illegal for GSA to sell STORIS at auction because her tonnage exceeded 1,500 tons. This was a violation of 40 U.S.C. 548 ( Whether this is part of the redacted information for deliberative or attorney-client privilege remains to be seen. Regardless, the federal government VIOLATED the very laws they were supposed to be following. As indicated in earlier posts on March 12 and May 9, Denise Rucker Krepp, former chief counsel for MARAD, has identified these violations.

On page 3, there is a comment regarding Jeff Siragusa of MARAD inspecting STORIS and making note of “a lot of new wiring.” While this may be true, that there was new wiring in many locations on the ship, particularly the main control board, there was also a substantial quantity of old wiring. We know it was there based on sworn statements provided by two key members of the ship’s last crew, an EM2 and BMC. This old wiring was conveniently ignored by the Coast Guard in declaring the ship “free of regulated PCBs” and it was apparently ignored by Jeff Siragusa.  The rest of the comment regarding Siragusa was redacted by MARAD as “pre-decision, deliberative process” protected. What does it say, that the wiring looked fine, posed no problem and the ship was clean? What is MARAD hiding with the redaction? Again, this gets to the very core of the information that we are seeking regarding the government’s assessment and disposal of STORIS.

Last fall, I had spoken with Gary Whitney, the general manager of the Mare Island Ship Yard. He told me that he walked away from bidding on STORIS as a potential scrap project because it was readily apparent to him that there was a lot of old wiring on the ship as well as other materials that likely harbored hazardous materials. Again, when I asked him about the presence of PCBs on board STORIS, his reply was that he didn't actually test for PCBs, but he saw enough to believe they were there. He said that if the Mexicans were going to look for PCBs, they would find them. Apparently the Mexicans really weren't looking for PCBs or at least not very hard.

It is interesting to note that Jeff Siragusa was vice-president and program manager at a ship recycling business known as North American Ship Recycling (NASR) located at the old Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point (Baltimore, MD) shipyard. In 2007, NASR was targeted by a lawsuit filed by Clean Venture, an environmental remediation contractor that did not receive payment for two vessels being scrapped. Elements of the lawsuit involved accusations under federal racketeering laws. NASR seemingly disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving behind a controversy and two partially dismantled ships, the USS HOIST (ARS-40) and the USS SPHINX (ARL-24).  Both ships were determined to contain hazardous materials, particularly the SPHINX, which was identified as containing waste oil, lead paint and PCBs.

The Hampton Roads Pilot (Virginia), published stories related to the debacle as it involved several ships from the James River Reserve Fleet:

The Baltimore Sun also has several stories in its archives related to NASR, its creation and its disappearance.

The suit was settled confidentially in late December 2007 before it made it into court.

In the stories, MARAD officials are quoted in regard to the problems that the NASR shutdown and associated controversy caused for the government:

“The U.S. Maritime Administration, which oversees the fleet, said in a statement Thursday that it is ‘disappointed’ by the sudden closure.
‘All rights and remedies available to the agency related to those contracts, and NASR's failure to perform under those contracts, are being pursued, but cannot be discussed,’ according to the statement released by Susan Clark, an agency spokeswoman.” – Shipyard closure sinks plan for 6 ‘Ghost Fleet’ ships – Scott Harper, Pilot Online 11/9/07
The situation couldn’t have caused too much trouble for MARAD if they turned around and hired Jeff Siragusa from the wayward firm to be a Contracting Officer Technical Representative for MARAD. His name shows up in a search of MARAD ship disposal documents from 2009-10 with a Washington, DC, phone number. Now he’s apparently in California. I wonder how other private ship scrapping firms felt to have a former competitor working for the government for the very agency from which they relied on to purchase ships or bid on contracts for shipbreaking, their very lifeblood?

There is also some sarcasm related to U.S. Metals Recovery actually taking the ship from the SBRF, with a comment from William Cahill of MARAD stating “I guess they mean it this time.” So apparently, there were previous false starts and failures to move the ship to the annoyance of MARAD officials.

Pages 7-26 involved internal MARAD communications in response to a message I sent MARAD’s chief counsel on Oct. 29, the Monday following STORIS’ departure from Suisun Bay. Again, it is a matter of putting together a consistent, united front to address my inquiry as well as the other inquiries that might come in from the media or Congressional officials.

Pages 27-28 discuss STORIS, GLACIER and PLANETREE (but not IRIS) and their situation within the SBRF, MARAD custody and Coast Guard ownership.

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