UPDATE | 'Chickamauga' owner could face major fines, prison

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announces criminal charges against the owner of a tugboat that sank in Eagle Harbor last October during a press conference in Seattle. - Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announces criminal charges against the owner of a tugboat that sank in Eagle Harbor last October during a press conference in Seattle.
— image credit: Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark announced the filing of charges against the owner of the neglected 100-year-old "Chickamauga" at a press conference Wednesday in the Seattle office of the Attorney General.

Anthony R. Smith, the owner of the tugboat that sank in Eagle Harbor in October and leaked approximately 200 to 300 gallons of diesel fuel into Puget Sound, will face criminal charges including 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.

The charges, along with separate charges relating to a similar incident in Pierce County, are the first environmental crimes involving derelict vessels to be filed by the state of Washington, state officials said.

In addition to the penalties for abandoning the vessel and polluting the waters, theft in the first degree is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine plus restitution, assessments and court costs.

"I deeply appreciate Attorney General Ferguson's leadership and commitment to hold owners of derelict vessels accountable for the damage they do to the environment and to the economic losses they cause the taxpayers," Goldmark said.

The Attorney General's Office took on the investigation as part of a new effort to crack down on environmental crimes and is working with federal, state and local government agencies to ensure proper prosecution of such cases for the first time in over a decade.

In July, the AGO prosecuted its first environmental crime case in 10 years, involving illegal sewage dumping in Snohomish County.

The case against Smith is the latest development in this renewed focus on such crimes.

According to court documents, Smith paid first and last month's moorage fees to Eagle Harbor Marina after piloting the "Chickamauga" there in February 2013. Smith failed to make any other payments on his moorage fees, and failed to respond to requests by the harbormaster to address the failing condition of the boat.

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.

The announcement of legal action is a relief to Eagle Harbor Marina harbormaster Doug Crow.

"I just talked with the Department of Natural Resources," Crow said Wednesday, "unless something comes up today that I'm not aware of, then they are planning to take possession of the boat tomorrow."

Crow said that though plans currently exist to relocate the vessel in the near future, the state reportedly does not intend to dismantle the boat until all legal issues have been resolved.

"There are 30 days in which any owner, past or present, can appeal that decision," he said.

Crow said he was pleased that authorities were finally treating derelict boats as the serious legal problem that they are.

"I'm very encouraged," Crow said. "Not just because of us here, but because of the whole issue of derelict vessels in our waters. That the state is beginning to do something that applies to criminal charges is, I think, very important."

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