Potentially serious environmental harm was avoided when an oil-filled, seemingly derelict boat, Marshall’s Island, was removed last week after nearly beaching itself while adrift in waters near Manitou Beach.
“It was quite a save,” said Bainbridge Island Harbormaster Tami Allen.
The fiberglass boat, about 36-feet long and weighing about 10 tons, according to Allen, was brought to her attention and towed to the city dock immediately, through a fortuitous bit of chance, Tuesday, July 10.
It was low tide at the time, and Marshall’s Island was sitting, having in effect run aground, in about 10 feet of water when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers towed it to the city dock in Waterfront Park.
“I happened to be with the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers … so they were here with their crane and their barge and their work skiff, and they ran me out to set an anchor to keep it from going deeper into the beach,” she said.
The trouble, however, was more serious than even the experts thought at first.
“Once we got it to the dock and we found that it was taking on water. Very slowly, but it was taking on water,” Allen said.
About 300 gallons of bilge water, with nearly 40 percent of it oil, was removed from the boat at the city dock by a contractor on Wednesday, July 18.
“It was an emergency removal,” Allen said. “That’s a lot of oil”.
“Had it gone through one more tidal cycle that would have been a real mess on the eelgrass.”
Allen is currently attempting to contact the owner, via the requirements of the Department of Natural Resources’ Derelict Vessel Removal Program. It’s a 60-day process.
Because the boat posed such a threat to the environment, Allen said, she was legally excused from the necessary 30-day waiting period typically necessary to classify a boat as derelict.
“We don’t have to wait 30 days for it to become in trespass because it had beached and it had oil in it,” she said. “Aside from those first steps … we towed it ourselves, which saved a lot of money … we still have to go through the 60 days.”
On Thursday, July 19, the boat was towed by the Bainbridge Island Police Department to a marina in Seattle — back, apparently, where it came from.
“The boat didn’t get anchored here; the boat floated from Seattle here,” Allen said.
Though the identity of the owner remains unknown at this time, at least the origin of the vessel has been slightly demystified.
“I did find out on [July] 10th, I’d called the Coast Guard and they’d had a boat that was boarded in Seattle on Shilshole Bay side, out on the open water but anchored off Meadow Point,” Allen said. “We knew there was a boarding in Seattle, we knew there was a boat adrift, dragging anchor, in Seattle, and then they couldn’t find it. And that’s the boat that ended up on our side.”
“They always come from somewhere,” Allen said.
As the boat ended up in Bainbridge waters, it is the city’s responsibility to see through the disposal process.
Allen will apply for reimbursement for about 90 percent of the expenses related to the vessel’s care and, if necessary, disposal from the state, as well as federal funds due to the boat’s especially poor condition.
“This one is definitely a candidate for disposal,” she said.
Since the Derelict Vessel Removal Program was instituted in 2002, reportedly more than 580 abandoned or neglected vessels have been removed from Washington waterways.
It is, in fact, the state’s key mechanism for addressing the problem of derelict or abandoned vessels in Washington’s waters, and has been cited as a model for other jurisdictions seeking to deal with the problem of sunken or neglected watercraft.