USCGC STORIS Life and Death of a Queen


Death of a Queen part 1

There were two nonprofit groups, STORIS Museum (Juneau, AK) and The Last Patrol Museum (Toledo, OH), working together throughout the summer of 2013 to ensure that STORIS would have a good home in the port of Toledo where she was built. The plans would have seen the ship used for noble purposes: to share the stories of the men and women who built STORIS, sailed STORIS and made history with STORIS, as well as serving as a training platform for U.S. Navy Sea Cadets, new generations of young men and women who want to go to sea.

Attempts to secure the ship through legislative donation were unsuccessful. The last attempt in late 2012 failed because of petty party politics led by Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Soon after the language for the STORIS donation was stricken -- Section 601 of Senate Bill 1665 -- and the Coast Guard Appropriations Bill ultimately passed, DeMint resigned from the Senate. The two nonprofits were forced to go through the GSA disposal process.

Discussions with GSA seemed to be going well between STORIS Museum and GSA in Atlanta. STORIS Museum was assured that GSA wanted the ship to go to the nonprofits. GSA made a lot of misleading promises about what they were willing to do to help preserve STORIS and transfer her to the Museum. They promised the ship would receive special consideration because she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. STORIS Museum was also assured that they would have the chance to claim the ship off the surplus property list as a nonprofit for a modest cost using historic monument and educational public benefit clauses in the law. STORIS Museum was given a two-year timetable for the transfer, so all of the museum plans for fundraising, acquisition and rehabilitation were built around that two-year timetable.

Then GSA apparently found a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) made between the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. Coast Guard written in late 2006 before the ship was even decommissioned and while she was still serving in Alaska. Under Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the US Navy and Coast Guard have to assess the historic significance of the ships that they decommission. As a result of this MOA between AK SHPO and USCG from 2006, the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record team performed extensive black and white, high-resolution photography of STORIS and a written historical record was printed up. Instead of preserving the ship, the photos and written documentation serve as the official permanent record that the ship existed. The Coast Guard or any other government agency was then released from any obligation then or in the future to protect the integrity of the ship, according to the GSA’s argument. It’s a legal cop-out for the government to shirk their responsibilities in protecting and preserving our federally owned historic resources.

GSA could/should have performed another Section 106 review as federal funding is involved with the process of selling the ship and her historic integrity certainly was negatively affected by the results of the disposition process. That is one of the key triggers for a Section 106 review: federal funds are involved and the historic integrity of a documented historic resource is threatened by action of the federal government. This is especially true since STORIS was officially listed on the National Register in December, a few weeks before the initial discussions between STORIS Museum and GSA began rather than just being “determined eligible” as she was in 2006. GSA dodged its responsibilities, despite all the feel-good rhetoric on its Web pages about being responsible stewards of our federally owned historic treasures, following established federal preservation laws.

For the overall process, GSA halved the associated waiting periods for the various federal agencies, states and groups to put in a claim for the ship. Jim Loback of the STORIS Museum tried several times in early June to contact GSA to inquire about the process with the ship. He finally was successful in contacting GSA at 1645 on Friday, June 7, as the state claim period was coming to an end as we understood it, so he could inquire about what we had been led to believe was the next process, the nonprofit claim period. It was then that GSA announced that they had the “newly discovered” original MOA from 2006, claiming their obligations to protect the ship were fulfilled. It was GSA’s position they had no further responsibility to protect the ship or pursue transfer of the ship to the nonprofits for historic preservation. It was also revealed that the state and nonprofit claim periods were being run simultaneously. Had STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol known that, they would have reacted immediately to submit an appropriate claim for the ship through the public benefit program.

Instead, GSA announced they would be putting STORIS up for sale the following week.

The two-year waiting period GSA insisted on became two weeks.

Death of a Queen part 3

There was a strong suspicion that because STORIS was constructed in 1942, there was a high likelihood that the ship contained hazardous materials including Polychlorinated Biphenyls. PCBs were used in many different applications aboard ships and totally removing PCBs at regulated levels from a ship as old as STORIS would be practically impossible. Use of the ship as a museum vessel as planned by STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol would have been safe, as the materials on board would not have been disturbed. However, dismantling of the ship – particularly by a yard or by workers who were not trained or equipped to deal with PCBs – would expose these toxic materials to the environment.

While it is not against the law to export ships containing most hazardous materials from the U.S., it is a violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 to export materials from the U.S. in excess of 50 parts per million (ppm).

Read more about PCBs in marine applications here:

These concerns were first validated by the first-hand observation of suspect materials by Gary Whitney from Mare Island Ship Yard. Preservation consultant and STORIS Working Group member Jon Ottman contacted EPA Region IX in San Francisco on Oct. 21 to inquire about PCBs on STORIS and the legality of export for foreign scrapping. On Oct. 23, Ottman was assured by Christopher Rollins, EPA Region IX PCB enforcement officer, that there was documentation from the U.S. Coast Guard and GSA that proved STORIS was free of regulated PCBs. Rollins obviously never inspected the ship in person as he would have observed large quantities of undocumented wiring on board the ship that likely contained PCBs above regulated levels. These are the same materials that prompted MISY to avoid bidding on STORIS as a potential scrap candidate.

U.S. Metals Recovery finally produced insurance and Certificate of Financial Responsibility No. 870338-20 for the tow. The COFR was dated 10/25/2013. According to the terms of sale for STORIS through GSA, this was a document that was to have been provided to GSA to move the ship from the SBRF by July 12.

Pacific Tugboat Co.’s tug AN TILLETT, assisted by Greger Pacific Marine’s SILIA, moved STORIS from her mothball fleet berth and set up the tow late on the evening of Friday, Oct. 25. Despite the expressed concerns and the high probability that STORIS contained regulated PCBs, GSA, the U.S. Maritime Administration, EPA and U.S. Coast Guard allowed TILLETT and STORIS to depart San Francisco. This allowed the tow to get underway and head south with a two-day head start over the weekend while anyone with integrity in the government or who knew of the associated problems with the export could do nothing. This departure was almost FOUR FULL MONTHS after STORIS had been sold and well past the established so-called “firm” deadlines for the ship’s removal from Suisun Bay.

Meanwhile, late on the evening of Oct. 26, Ottman received a packet of information by email from a concerned third party that validated his concerns from earlier in the week regarding the potential for PCBs on board STORIS. The third party had read a wire story regarding the export of the ship and recognized that the export was a likely violation of U.S. federal law. The information received included copies of the deficient documents used by the government to allow the export of the ship.

By the time anyone could respond or try to intervene on Monday, the tow was nearing Los Angeles, just hours from Mexican territorial waters. Pacific Tugboat was contacted and informed of the potential problems they may be facing with towing a ship containing PCBs out of the country. Despite these last minute efforts to have various government officials intervene and stop the tow from leaving U.S. waters, the tow was allowed by EPA to proceed to Mexico, arriving in Ensenada on Oct. 29.

KMXT radio from Kodiak broadcast a story about the export:

The documents received on Oct. 26 are the only documents available that detail the issues related to STORIS and her haz-mat status. All of the communication between the involved government agencies and the buyer took place outside the public purview. Links to these documents will be posted as they are uploaded.

On November 4, a series of requests through the Federal Freedom of Information Act were submitted to the U.S. General Services Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Maritime Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. These FOIA requests are intended to secure correspondence and documents related to STORIS, her condition, excessing, sale and the associated actions that allowed her to be exported to Mexico for scrapping. Links to these FOIA requests will be posted, along with the responses from the various agencies.

Several legislators were also notified about the likelihood that the ship had been exported illegally. Since the ship was in Mexico and U.S. officials refused to directly intervene – particularly from the EPA – the matter was in the hands of the Mexican authorities.

Death of a Queen part 2

Despite being short of major funding because of the seriously abbreviated fundraising period – again the two years down to just two weeks – STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol were registered as bidders for the GSA auction for STORIS. As the auction drew to a close, the groups were watching the bidding and had a major financial donor on a phone connection, albeit a poor connection as he was out of the country on business. The groups did not bid as the auction drew near its end, as it was clear that the minimum reserve price for the ship’s purchase had not been met. The auction ended at 2215 CST without the reserve price having been reached. The archived GSA Web site still reflects this information. It was the understanding of the STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol that since the reserve had not been met, the ship would be relisted, likely with a lower reserve price or no reserve at all.

However, the U.S. Government, represented by the GSA, instead chose to award STORIS for the lone $70,100 bid, well below the secret reserve price (which we know now is $100,000). This decision was made in a window less than 12 hours after the auction closed. The rationale for this decision is currently unknown.

The buyers were Mark Jurisich, John Bryan and their “U.S. Metals Recovery” of San Diego, a business that has very little in the way of a presence other than a name and a mailing address. They have no facilities of their own for the legal dismantling of ships.

The federal government then stood by and did nothing as Jurisich spent the remainder of the summer trying to extort the two nonprofits for a firm price of $250,000 cash or over $320,000 in an installment deal, a profit margin of over 350 to 450+ percent. A foreign national from Australia or New Zealand living in the U.S. with unknown citizenship or residency status, Jurisich declared that since he wasn’t American, he had no concerns about the ship’s history and if his price wasn’t met, he would scrap the ship.

According to Gary Whitney, the GM of Mare Island Ship Yard (MISY) in Vallejo, STORIS had a value in the U.S. of approximately $296,000 in scrap steel under the best case scenario. The cost to scrap her following U.S. laws was estimated at $330,000. Add that with the towing costs, insurance premiums and original purchase price and it was clear that there was no way that domestic dismantling would be profitable. MISY had inspected the ship for possible bidding but declined to submit a bid when they noted significant quantities of materials on board that were recognized to have a high likelihood of containing hazardous materials and PCBs.

Meanwhile, through credible personal contacts in the maritime industry on the West Coast, STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol learned that in late summer Jurisich was approaching various shipyards and businesses with dock space in the San Francisco Bay area with the intention of renting dock space to dismantle the ship using migrant laborers hired from the parking lots of area Home Depot stores. His apparent intent was to cut the ship apart in pieces and then sell them piecemeal to pay for the dock space and to recoup costs. This is called “pick and pull” scrapping. These requests were turned down because of the obvious violations of environmental, labor and occupational health/safety laws as well as liability and terms of various lease agreements and labor contracts.

The government stood by and did nothing as this farce continued.

GSA was completely inflexible with the two nonprofits as far as the deadline to obtain the ship when it became known that the state and nonprofit claim periods were being run simultaneously, when the US Navy Sea Cadets could have claimed the vessel through the public benefit conveyance aspects of GSA Surplus disposal. Yet they allowed the buyer to miss the initial deadline of July 12 to insure and move the ship, then miss the MARAD deadline of September 22 to remove the ship, and miss another deadline again on September 30 when the USCG rent expired.

There was an assumption that the government would step up and take back the ship for a clear and drawn out pattern of noncompliance. Instead the government agencies involved looked the other way. Several inquiries were made of the GSA by Ohio and Alaska legislators, but were met with indifference from GSA officials, who either reportedly ignored the inquiries or insisted that they had followed proper procedure. GSA otherwise disregarded the Congressional inquiries.

Then on October 1, again because of petty politics in Congress, a large portion of the federal government shut down. MARAD at Suisun Bay was among the few agencies still in operation. On October 18, just as the government reopened, it was discovered that STORIS would be towed to Ensenada, Mexico, the following Friday for scrapping.