Huge news. This is a very important read and something that has been taking shape for the past several weeks. I’ve asked that everyone stand by for something big coming and today is the day. It’s time for STORIS vets and supporters to stand up and be heard. Please share this with your families, shipmates, friends, colleagues, etc. We need all hands on deck for this one.
Yesterday, June 4, U.S. Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) introduced Senate Bill S 1511, the Ships to Be Recycled in the States (STORIS) Act. This legislation is intended to reform the domestic marine recycling industry. Their legislation would improve the domestic ship recycling industry and promote transparency by requiring reports from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and an audit of MARAD by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Congressman Garret Graves (R-La.) is introducing the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The media release is here:http://www.vitter.senate.gov/newsroom/press/vitter-cassidy-graves-introduce-legislation-to-improve-ship-recycling-create-jobs
The legislation can be tracked here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1511
You will remember that a version of the STORIS Act was being considered last year for introduction by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska). That effort came to a halt before the legislation could be introduced when Senator Begich lost his bid for re-election. However, other legislators took up the mantle and have moved forward with it, culminating in yesterday’s introduction. Last fall, the Facebook posting sharing the original STORIS Act discussion reached almost 7,800 people. Again, we need to share this post with everyone who has an interest in STORIS to mobilize and speak up for the ship and her disrespectful disposal at the hands of the government that she so faithfully served.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been assisting with providing information about the ship and her undeserved fate to the legislators involved. I provided a written statement of support on behalf and as a member of the STORIS Working Group, the legal partnership formed between the STORIS Museum of Juneau and The Last Patrol Museum of Toledo. Various Maritime Heritage sites from across the country have also written letters of support for the legislation. And now here we are.
A draft of the STORIS Act, as introduced, is here: https://goo.gl/GqpYGs
In general, this legislation seeks to reform administrative procedures at the U.S. Maritime Administration. Like the version discussed last fall, key provisions of this legislation will seek to free up designated funding for U.S. Maritime Heritage sites/facilities across the country as well as state maritime academies. The money is generated through the sales of obsolete MARAD/government vessels and a percentage is to be used for competitive grant funding for these maritime heritage and education organizations. In recent years, MARAD has been hoarding the money, holding back substantial amounts that should be going out as grants even as the various museums and heritage resources struggle to find funds to maintain their operations.
Some of the earlier language from the initial proposed legislation has been changed to make the legislation more likely to pass. New language that will be beneficial to the efforts to seek answers for STORIS has been added, a bonus for us.
This extremely important part of the legislation calls for an audit of MARAD’s ship recycling program by the GAO. As indicated in the introduction to the media release, there are serious questions about how the Maritime Administration has been operating in terms of its disposal of obsolete government vessels. We now know that GSA should never have been involved with the excessing and disposal of STORIS as that should have been MARAD’s duty under 40 USC 548 because STORIS displaced more than 1,500 tons. We also know that it was illegal to export STORIS to Mexico for scrapping because of Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which prohibits the scrapping of former U.S. Government vessels in foreign scrapyards.
Similar audit language was included in the En Bloc Amendments to the CG Authorization Bill, HR 1987.
The emails I have received from MARAD through the Freedom of Information Act show that MARAD officials expressed skepticism in the days before STORIS’ departure that the ship was free of PCBs as the Coast Guard and GSA claimed. Yet these MARAD officials did nothing to stop the sequence of events taking place, despite knowing STORIS was of WWII vintage, making it highly likely she contained regulated materials. They did nothing and released her for export to Mexico for breaking in a substandard yard.
MARAD officials claim that they were just holding STORIS as a “custody ship,” that the responsibility lay elsewhere. However, as the agency charged with overseeing our nation’s maritime fleet, MARAD officials knew better than to allow this situation to take place. That MARAD did not step up to assume its proper role as the rightful agency to handle STORIS’ disposition while allowing the ship to be exported in violation of federal laws raises serious questions about these administrators. There have also been irregularities with MARAD administrators awarding obsolete vessels to ship recycling facilities that did not submit the highest bids. The sums of money involved have exceeded hundreds of thousands of dollars per ship. All that money adds up and it is not a “best value” practice in the best interests for U.S. taxpayers.
This audit is meant to be comprehensive to encompass all of these issues. There is language specifically calling out the review of MARAD agreements with the Coast Guard, GSA, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies for compliance with Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter NDAA. This will bring the issues with STORIS and her illegal export directly onto the table. The issues with the undocumented materials that likely contained PCBs exported illegally in spite of the PCB Export Ban of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 should also come out as part of that discussion.
In addition to STORIS, the language should encompass what happened with ACUSHNET and her sale through an improper GSA auction, despite her tonnage exceeding 40 USC 548 guidelines. She then became the central component of a federal criminal case since the buyer reportedly swindled a wealthy widow for the money to buy the ship. Then there’s GLACIER, which was sold for scrap by MARAD despite efforts and substantial investment in money, time, labor and parts by a nonprofit group to preserve her as a museum. I’ll be reaching out to veterans of these cutters to seek their support for this legislation, as well. We all deserve answers and these great ships certainly deserved better than what they received at the hands of the federal bureaucracy.
I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the four agencies involved with STORIS’ export on Nov. 4, 2013, right after she was allowed to leave the country (to USCG, GSA, MARAD, EPA). It’s been over a year and a half and the agencies involved still have not fully complied. Coast Guard and GSA will be handled separately. However, MARAD was to have responded to my final FOIA appeal by Feb. 9, 2015 and they have not done so as of this writing. MARAD officials might be able to stall me with delays and redactions, but they cannot stall the GAO. MARAD has to show GAO officials ALL their cards and there is no holding back or hiding.
It is conceivable that, as details come out through the MARAD audit, there could be some deeper examinations into these other agencies by GAO or other authorities to see how this disgraceful situation occurred with STORIS. It's pretty clear from what we've been able to glean from the sparse FOIA releases we HAVE received that there were a lot of faulty and improper decisions made across the board with all the agencies involved. This is especially true with the collusion between GSA and USCG to get rid of the ship ASAP with no consideration for the ship's history and other factors like the obvious violation of several federal laws.
Read about the GAO here: http://www.gao.gov/about/index.html. The agency is a nonpartisan “congressional watchdog” that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. They also monitor compliance with federal laws and procedures.
The introduction through the legislators in Louisiana ties to MARAD ship sales, which directly impacts ship recycling facilities and jobs in that state as well as neighboring Texas. The STORIS Act is meant to create jobs by ensuring that all vessels can be dismantled in the United States in compliance with U.S. environmental and safety laws, and are not exported where those safety rules do not apply. That would include the substandard yard in Ensenada, Mexico, where STORIS met her fate.
Key language in the media release announcing the introduction and origin of the STORIS Act is the following: “The STORIS Act is named in recognition of the former Coast Guard Cutter STORIS, which was dismantled in Mexico in 2013 in violation of the current law.”
The acknowledgement of STORIS’ export and scrapping as illegal is a tremendous step, as we now have three Federal legislators – two senators and a congressman – publicly stating that her export and scrapping in Mexico was illegal. This is a great opportunity to get STORIS and her fate out into the open for discussion at all levels, from the street to DC.
It’s already starting to be publicized: http://www.maritimeprofessional.com/news/legislation-targets-ship-recycling-reform-272420
We need STORIS supporters to reach out to their members of Congress to ask that they support this legislation. There are several key questions that this legislation will answer. We want and deserve truthful responses as to how STORIS was allowed to be destroyed. This legislation can hopefully help us get some of those answers.
Contact information for Congress is here: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/
A draft letter asking for Congressional support is here: https://goo.gl/lChSuL. Modify it, use excerpts or do whatever works to fit your needs and send it out. The letter contains the basics to which STORIS supporters can add their personalized touches to appeal to Congress while also expressing their concerns about how STORIS was allowed to be destroyed.
Let’s do this, for STORIS as she did for over 64 years, with Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.
If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at email@example.com