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State hoists hazardous boat to the surface

The hull of an old boat, believed to have been abandoned  decades ago and left to sink near Dockton, was removed last week.  - Ray Pfortner
The hull of an old boat, believed to have been abandoned decades ago and left to sink near Dockton, was removed last week.
— image credit: Ray Pfortner

In last Thursday morning’s fog, a massive crane lifted a sunken 60-foot steel boat hull off the floor of Quartermaster Harbor in Dockton, removing what could have been a hazard to the large number of boaters that use the area.

A barge the size of a football field was barely visible in the low-hanging clouds filling the harbor that morning, and the crane on board stretched 200 feet into the sky as workers, including a diver in the water, prepared to bring the remains of the old vessel up.

The sunken hull, rumored to have been stripped by its owner, tied to an abandoned structure and left to sink not far from Dockton’s shore 15 to 30 years ago, was removed through the Department of Natural Resources’s Derelict Vessel Program.

“I am really glad the vessel came up in one piece and did not break apart and that the harbor is now safe for boaters,” said Lisa Randlette, an environmental planner with DNR’s Aquatic Resources Division, which has led a recent effort to clean up the harbor.

Randlette first noticed the hull when she was out surveying an abandoned net pen in the harbor in preparation for its removal this summer. The tide was exceptionally low that day, Randlette recalled, and as she walked on the pen, she could see the hull sitting on the harbor floor, but close to the water’s surface. She knew then, she said, that it had to be removed.

“This really typifies what can happen with derelict vessels,” she added.

The cost to remove the sunken hull was about $60,000, Randlette said, noting that many of the program funds for this type of boat removal come from surcharges on boating registration and permit fees. When possible, the program charges vessel owners for the cost of removing their boats, but fee collection is difficult, and only eight vessel owners out of about 500 are working toward reimbursing the state, according to Tammy Robbins, also with the derelict vessel program.

While $60,000 might seem like a lot of money, Randlette said many vessel removals cost much more than that but are worth it, for both boater and environmental safety reasons.

“If we left this and somebody had an accident and an oil spill resulted, that would affect the whole ecosystem,” she said. “For the environment and the community, the relative cost of removal is one of our better investments.”

In part, the cleanup work being done is to make way for the new buoy field — a boat parking lot of sorts — planned for the harbor. Next summer, Randlette noted, workers will come out and remove old creosote pilings, including many on the harbor floor.

For this project, DNR officials contracted with Global Diving and Salvage, based in Seattle. Initially, Randlette said, a smaller crane was brought to the site, but then a diver determined that part of the hull was made of cement, and a larger crane was needed. The derrick barge that replaced the first crane is one of the largest of its kind, able to hold up to 700 tons and is typically used for building bridges.

The hull, which weighed 24 tons when empty, was pulled from the water with many sea stars and anemones attached to it. Those were removed and returned to the water, Randlette said, and the hull was taken to Tacoma to be recycled.

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