After the retired U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Storis was sold for scrap last year and dismantled for scrap in Mexico, Alaska Senator Mark Begich introduced a bill in congress to ensure that American vessels are recycled in America. But the act goes further than that – it requires a portion of the proceeds from the sale of federally-owned ships to be distributed to maritime museums and other such organizations – something that is already required, but is not adhered to by the operators of the nation’s mothballed fleet.
Denise Krepp is a lobbyist in Washington D.C. who works on behalf of American ship recyclers. The STORIS Act would help her clients, but it would also benefit the thousand or more maritime heritage organizations in the United States.
“The money that ship recyclers give to the government, and to date, that’s about $70-million, will go to the maritime heritage organizations. Under law, a quarter of that money is supposed to be going to museums and light houses and others that promote maritime history. And unfortunately they haven’t seen any money since 1998.”
She said maritime heritage organizations run the gamut from small museums up to the organization that cares for the U.S.S. Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides.
“I’m talking about incredible museums. There’S one that’s up in seattle that’s involved with the gold rush. And not only did it work with the gold rush a hundred years ago, but it was the last vessel out of Wake Island, right after Pearl Harbor was attacked. So there’s some pretty fhistoric vesse3ls around the country. In Virginia the mariner’s museum has the Monitor, like the Monitor versus the Merimak. That’s our history.”
Krepp said the money that’s not getting to maritime heritage organizations could be put to good use:
“When you think about these maritime heritage organizations, everything from museums to the lighthouses to the tall ships, to other organizations that are affiliated with maritime heritage, it’s an immense group. And you know, not all of them are going to receive the full funding, but they should be given the opportunity to apply for the grant money. And then this grant money should be used, and will be used, to education people about our maritime history.”
The act is called “The Storis” Act for the Coast Guard Cutter Storis, which spent 50 years patrolling Alaska waters after serving in World War II, but the name is an acronym for ‘‘Ships to be Recycled in the States” Act.
The act also requires a report to Congress each year of what happened to vessels not worth preserving.
Friday will mark one year since the auction for the decommissioned Coast Guard Cutter Storis ended. At the closing bell, there was only one bid, which briefly gave hope to advocates who wanted the ship to be turned into a museum. But that optimism did not last long.
“You can imagine our horror and shock that the ship was essentially awarded to the only bidder the following morning for a sum that was substantially less than what we now know was the reserve price of $100,000, with the ship having been sold essentially for $70,100,” said Jon Ottman, a maritime history preservationist in Michigan.
Ottman had been working with groups trying to save the Storis from the scrap yard. After a summer of fruitless wrangling with the former Queen of the Fleet’s new owner, the Storis was towed in October from California to Ensenada, Mexico, where it was to be dismantled.
Ottman and others had tried reaching out to the U.S. government to try and block the transfer based on ecologic grounds, saying the Storis contained too many contaminants to legally be allowed out of the country, but to no avail. Ship-breaking began around December.
“I would expect that there was probably not much left if anything,” Ottman said. “There may be some scraps around the scrap yard, but in terms of anything recognizable as what we remember as Storis, there’s nothing left.”
Despite the ship’s destruction, Ottman continues to seek answers for how and why it was disposed of. He has requested numerous government documents through the Freedom of Information Act, and expects them to be released this month.
“I, personally, would like to see I would like to see some accountability for what has been allowed to happen here,” he said. “You essentially have a national crime against the United States Coast Guard and U.S. maritime history that has been committed here, and there are several agencies that are complicent in this situation.”
Given all of his research, Ottman says he has been urged to write a book about the Storis and its fate, but don’t expect a happy ending.
“You have this history of this magnificent ship, and you get to the end, and she’s destroyed.”
You can follow Ottman’s research at his blog and on Facebook .
This week we’ve been bringing you new developments in the story of the former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Storis, which is currently in Mexico, awaiting its fate. The one-time longest serving cutter in the Coast Guard will be cut apart and its parts melted down as scrap metal, unless there is a way to stop the process and bring the 71-year-old ship back to America.
Supporters, including maritime historian Jon Ottman thinks there could be some hope to believe the ship will come home. He has gotten Mexican environmental authorities to examine the Storis to see if it contains toxic materials that would be exposed if the ship is cut apart.
“I sent them documentation regarding the Storis, including the report used by the various government agencies involved, the Coast Guard, the GSA, the Maritime Administration and the EPA that were used to clear the ship for export. This includes the report created in November 2000 that sampled 39 locations onboard Storis for PCBs, and explaining to them not one of the sites in this report had anything to do with electrical wiring or components.”
Ottman says he shared two letters with the Mexican authorities from former crewmen, who served aboard the Storis in its final years. Both stated they believed hazardous material remained onboard, despite later reports to the contrary. Continue reading
With Mexican authorities now showing interest in the environmental safety of dismantling the 71-year-old former Coast Guard Cutter Storis in their country, U.S. Senator Mark Begich says his office will look further into whether U.S. agencies acted appropriately in allowing the ship to be auctioned off and exported for scrap.
“Did EPA and the Coast Guard knowingly ship something that had hazardous waste, like you said asbestos and other things, to another market? I don’t know the answer to that question; (but) that’s something we can follow up,” Begich said. “We have not been following the Storis since it’s been sold off for scrap. So we have not done any additional follow up, but you’ve added to the list, now we’ve got to put it back on the list to find out what’s going on. We will do that.”
The Storis is currently at a shipyard in Ensenada, Mexico, south of San Diego. It was towed there in October by a company that paid about $70,000 for the ship at auction this summer.
Marine historian Jon Ottman says U.S. agencies ignored environmental rules prohibiting the export of dangerous chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which he claims could still aboard the Storis, encapsulated in old wiring and equipment.
“If this vessel does indeed contain illegal amounts of PCBs, then this process has been flawed from the get-go, right from the disposal processes, transferring the ship from the Coast Guard to the GSA, and then selling through the GSA to the buyer in San Diego, and then government allowed the ship to be exported.”
Ottman says he has been in contact with environmental agents in the U.S. and Mexico, and has been getting more cooperation from south of the border. Continue reading
Aerial view of fire aboard the floating processor Bering Star at an Ensenada, Mexico, harbor, with the former USCG Cutter Storis nearby. (Mexico Navy photo)
The retired Coast Guard Cutter Storis is back in the news, though it helps if you know Spanish to read about it. The once-longest serving cutter in the U.S. Coast Guard was written up in an Ensenada, Mexico, newspaper, first for a raid by government officials over a potential radiation threat, and then for PCB contamination. The ship is tied up in Ensenada after being bought at auction and towed to Mexico to be broken up for scrap metal.
After a fire broke out aboard the floating processor Bering Star, which was tied up on the same pier as the Storis in the harbor operated by Infrastructure and Port Services, Mexican officials last month inspected the old cutter after receiving a report that it may contain radioactive material onboard.
It turned out that there was none, but the Mexican environmental protection agency acted on persistent reports that the Storis has polychlorinated biphenyls and asbestos that could escape if the ship were scrapped.
Former crewmen of the Storis and supporters of a preservation group wishing to turn the cutter into a floating museum, have long contended the ship left the country illegally, because it contained hazardous waste that, under international law, cannot be exported. Instead, if it is to be scrapped, it must be broken up in the country of origin – in this case, the United States.
Jon Ottman is a preservationist who spoke with KMXT in October about the ship’s potential contamination issues.
“Because the GSA listed the vessel as a repairable ship and did not indicate in their original listing for her on the GSA auction site that she contained hazardous materials that would have to be handled in a special fashion, or that should she be desired by someone for ship-breaking, that it would have to be done domestically,” Ottman said. “Those are all very serious shortcomings in the original General Services auction listing.”
According to the Ensenada newspaper online, Mexican authorities are conducting laboratory tests on material from the Storis to determine if it contaminates exceed dangerous levels.
The retired U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Storis, which spent 50 years stationed in Kodiak, is now in Mexican waters, on its way to an Ensenada scrap yard.
Supporters of the Storis, marine historians, organizers of the Storis Museum, and former crewmembers, have all been trying to find some way to reverse its sale at auction this summer and keep it from being exported. Over the weekend and yesterday (Monday), embassies, government agencies and U.S. Senators were contacted after documents surfaced indicating it might be illegal to export the Storis for the purpose of breaking up for scrap metal.
Jon Ottman, a maritime historian who has taken the point on attempts to save the ship, told supporters on the Storis Facebook page that legal remedies may have been exhausted. The transport of the Storis was signed off on by the General Services Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, which Ottman says makes it unlikely a federal judge would block the tow.
The issue is that the Storis may have more contaminants on board than what is allowed to be exported.
Ottman says Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s office continues to work on stopping the transport through diplomatic means.
In another announcement to Storis supporters though, Ottman conceded it would take an “unforeseen miracle or unanticipated intervention” to stop the breaking up of the Storis at this point.
The venerable ship was launched in 1942, decommissioned in 2007 and sold at auction this summer for little more than $70,000.