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Owner of sunken tugboat to face criminal charges

The “Chickamauga,” a 100-year-old tugboat, sank in the early morning hours on Oct. 2  in its mooring at the Eagle Harbor Marina and spilled approximately 200 to 300 gallons of diesel fuel. The owner now faces criminal charges due to the neglected conditions of the vessel.  - Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review
The “Chickamauga,” a 100-year-old tugboat, sank in the early morning hours on Oct. 2 in its mooring at the Eagle Harbor Marina and spilled approximately 200 to 300 gallons of diesel fuel. The owner now faces criminal charges due to the neglected conditions of the vessel.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

The owner of a tugboat that sank in Eagle Harbor in October and leaked oil and fuel into Puget Sound will face criminal charges, state officials announced this week.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark announced the filing of charges against Anthony Smith at a press conference Wednesday in the Seattle office of the Attorney General.

It was announced that Anthony R. Smith would be charged with one count of theft in the first degree, one charge of causing a vessel to become abandoned or derelict and one count of discharge of polluting matters into state waters.

Smith is the owner of the “Chickamauga,” a 100-year-old tugboat that sank in the early morning hours on Oct. 2  in its mooring at the Eagle Harbor Marina.

Ferguson and Goldmark said the charges relating to the "Chickamauga," along with a similar incident in Pierce County, are the first environmental crimes involving derelict vessels to be filed by the state of Washington.

"These two cases were selected, first of all, because they were referred to the Environmental Protection Agency as matters that might be appropriate for criminal prosecution," said Jeff Hayes of the Environmental Protection Agency. "There was a reach out there to have these criminally investigated. Upon investigation it was found that there was serious and long-term neglect when it came to these vessels, and there was also a serious release of petroleum products into the waters of the state."

He added that the total clean-up costs from both incidents were "astronomical."

The sinking of the tugboat spurred a massive pollution-control effort that involved four different groups of responders and ultimately resulted in a price tag of $150,000 in cleanup costs.

Marina officials said earlier they had been unable to contact Smith, who was reportedly living in Alaska and claimed the tugboat was actually owned by his ex-wife.

An official with the state of Department of Ecology said that approximately 200 to 300 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from the historic wooden tugboat.

The environmental damage could have been worse if not for quick action by local emergency responders.

"Most of the oil released was contained in the boom," Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said earlier. "It could have been a lot, but the impact to Eagle Harbor was greatly reduced by fast action taken by the fire department and the marina staff."

Altose praised the efforts of everyone involved in the response efforts, including the Coast Guard members of Sector Puget Sound Incident Management Team and divers from Global Diving & Salvage Inc., a Seattle-based contractor that specializes in containing chemical spills.

"They had it nailed within a half an hour of the call," he said of the first responders.

Through the course of the initial response, most of the tanks have been emptied and the containers have been sealed. Ecology estimated that approximately 400 gallons of fuel were onboard the vessel when it sank, and according to the incident report on their public website that they "recovered about 50 gallons from the vessel tanks."

Due to legal issues surrounding the ownership of the boat, the Coast Guard contractor was unable to move the derelict vessel and it has remained at Eagle Harbor Marina since it sank and was raised in October.

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