USCGC STORIS Life and Death of a Queen
After her decommissioning on February 8, 2007, USCGC STORIS sailed in March under special commission to Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California. At Coast Guard Island, her crew worked on final deactivation of the ship before turning the vessel over to civilian contractors. These contractors performed the final work to the ship before she went into long-term storage at the U.S. Maritime Administration’s National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) at Suisun Bay near Benicia, California. STORIS was placed in storage at Suisun Bay in June 2007. This work included a bottom cleaning and painting as well as the blanking off of all hull openings such as sea chests, and engine exhausts.
The U.S. Coast Guard still retained ownership of STORIS, but paid rent for the moorings at the Suisun Bay moorings to the Maritime Administration (MARAD), which then treated STORIS as a “custody ship.” This differs from the other ships within the NDRF at Suisun Bay, which are directly controlled and under the federal ownership and administration of MARAD.
These ships are largely former Naval auxiliaries such as tankers and supply ships. These obsolete ships are also collectively known as “The Ghost Fleet.”
STORIS received minimal attention at Suisun Bay, other than occasional inspections to ensure the ship was not taking on any water. She was periodically moved as other vessels were removed from the fleet for relocation or scrapping.
Suisun Bay was the focal point of concern for environmental groups because of toxic materials contained on board the ships. The groups filed suit against MARAD due to these materials, including toxic paints that were sloughing off the hulls and into the water surrounding the moored vessels.
Read more about the pollution issues related to the Ghost Fleet at Suisun Bay at the following links:
For all intents and purposes, STORIS was not part of the problem at Suisun Bay as she was in excellent physical condition and her hull paint was in good condition, having been applied in 2006-7, in contrast to some of the Ghost Fleet ships that hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades.
Although STORIS was a custody ship at Suisun Bay, there are still matters of concern in relation to MARAD from our perspective as STORIS supporters.
- The fact that Mark Jurisich and John Bryan, dba U.S. Metals Recovery LLC of San Diego, as a stipulation of the purchase agreement, were given an initial deadline of July 12, 2013 by the General Services Administration to insure and remove STORIS from the Suisun Bay NDRF. U.S. Metals Recovery failed to do so, instead spending the rest of the summer trying to extort money from STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol. MARAD (and GSA for that matter) stood by and did nothing.
- According to a reliable source, MARAD gave U.S. Metals Recovery a firm deadline of September 22 to remove STORIS from the Suisun Bay moorings. That deadline came and went with no apparent penalty.
- The Coast Guard-subsidized rent for the moorings at Suisun Bay ran out September 30 and yet the ship remained at Suisun Bay past that deadline, as well.
- Ships that are to be removed from the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet to other locations beyond the San Francisco Bay area are required by law to have their bottoms cleaned, yet STORIS departed the Suisun Bay moorings October 25 and was towed directly to Ensenada.
As STORIS was en route to Ensenada, I sent urgent emails on Oct. 28 to the general counsel’s office of MARAD asking about the legality of allowing the ship to be exported, despite the high likelihood of PCBs being on board the ship.
I received a response indicating that STORIS was a custody ship and it was an issue to be taken up with the US Coast Guard. That correspondence is here: http://goo.gl/e1dXb3
The original Freedom of Information Act Request was submitted on Nov. 4 and received an acknowledgement on Nov. 7. The original submission and acknowledgement is here: http://goo.gl/H91IZm
I sent emails to Mitch Hudson, a high-ranking FOIA official within MARAD, on Dec. 8, Jan. 13 and Jan. 30, receiving no response. The Jan. 30 message was copied to the general counsel's office and still no response from the FOIA coordinator or legal staff: http://goo.gl/UGWzGl
I called the MARAD FOIA office on Feb. 4 and spoke with Andrew Larimore. He claimed that he was actually working on compiling the requested information related to STORIS and would be in touch with me within a couple of weeks. That time has come and gone and no updates. I will be following up this week.
Again, over 3 ½ months after original submission and I still have no documents from MARAD or any of the other agencies involved with STORIS and her export to Mexico.
Those of us who care about STORIS and the catastrophic turn of events that led to her destruction deserve to know the truth.
February 22,2014 While the whole process of trying to get answers from the Federal Government about its excessing and disposal of USCGC STORIS has been very problematic, the Freedom of Information Act requests for the Environmental Protection Agency related to STORIS have been the most involved.
That may have something to do with the high probability that STORIS contained undocumented materials that contained levels of PCBs above regulated levels that the EPA is supposed to be monitoring and controlling under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Despite the fact they were contacted by more than one person regarding STORIS likely containing PCBs, EPA did not inspect the ship and allowed her to be exported under U.S. Flag-designation to Mexico for dismantling – essentially a lesser-developed country with no infrastructure to properly dispose of PCBs. In short, EPA officials screwed up in a major way.
As with the FOIA request through GSA, EPA has denied my request for waiver of fees on December 13 related to the request based on their position that I did not respond to a December 3 letter which required an answer within 10 days. Problem is, I didn’t receive the letter until I asked repeatedly for it once I became aware of its existence through the denial.
Their second position is that they don’t feel that my stated intentions for the material is good enough for dissemination of the requested documentation. My general statement of media release is one basis for their denial. It’s not up to me to identify which news media are interested in the story. They should know anyway since there is at least one major investigative reporter who also has FOIA requests out. It’s up to the reporters to identify their efforts publicly when they are ready.
EPA’s position that posting the information on a Web site without interpretation is not good enough to meet their standards is without base. While the STORIS Museum Web site and Facebook pages no longer exist (since the organization itself will soon no longer exist with no ship to save), this Facebook page and its companion Web site at www.uscgcstoris.net are more than adequate sources to convey the information about STORIS and her demise through the federal government’s a.) arrogance b.) ignorance/indifference c.) incompetence d.) bureaucratic politics. I’m leaning toward e.) all of the above.
The FOIA request from EPA is currently being reviewed in mediation through my appeal through the Office of Government Information Services at the National Archives.
The time frame outline and associated documents are as follows:
On November 4, 2013, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.
This request was finally acknowledged by EPA on November 22 by email and assigned ID No. EPA-R9-2014-001383.
EPA sent a denial of fee waiver via email on December 13 claiming that the waiver was being denied because I failed to respond within a 10-day window to a letter EPA claimed to have sent to me dated December 3. However, I had received no such letter. It is interesting that they were quick to fire off a denial before the full 10 days had officially expired, as I received the letter at 11:28 a.m., well before the end of business on December 13. They also had a snow day in Washington, DC, which closed all federal offices and included a weekend in their response period, so the 10 days was not actually 10 days. Nevertheless, it’s hard to respond to a letter that you never received.
I pointed this out in an email response sent to EPA FOIA HQ on December 14. http://goo.gl/q4tymV
On December 18, I received an email response from Cynthia Floyd-Coleman from EPA FOIA that indicated that the December 3 letter had been sent via email. It was only after I pointed out again and again in following correspondence that I had not received the letter that I finally received a copy of the December 3 letter on December 19 via email from Ms. Floyd-Coleman.
The December 3 letter: http://goo.gl/nrQRa9
By that point, I had already written a full appeal to the December 13 denial of waiver that also served as a suitable clarification to meet the December 3 letter. I submitted this information by email on December 19.
Even as this process continued, I had asked that the collation of the requested materials should proceed. EPA was otherwise going to stop collecting the materials while the appeal process was underway.
I had to ensure EPA that if all avenues of appeal and mediation were unsuccessful, I would ultimately pay for the requested materials. However, I still assert that my position for waiver of fees is valid. This was borne out by the email exchange between Cynthia Floyd-Coleman on December 20, the copies of which are attached.
Right after the first of the year, I started receiving emails and phone calls from officials at EPA Region IX in San Francisco. This started with PCB investigator Christopher Rollins, with whom I had discussions in October before STORIS was towed to Ensenada. It seemed odd that he would be calling, since he was a subject and source of the information I was seeking and not a designated FOIA representative of EPA.
The next thing you know, I’m being asked to set up a conference with Rollins, an asst. general counsel for EPA, and various public affairs officials for the agency. This did not feel right, as again, a FOIA coordinator should have been the person I was dealing with, not heavies through the legal and public relations departments, and as a group. There was no telling who was going to be listening in or what their intention was in going after me in numbers. It was ultimately decided to skip the conference and just go ahead with the written descriptions I had provided.
The final response from EPA denying the fee waiver was sent to me by email on January 17, 2014. Again, this is a baseless claim and in my opinion, an attempt to deter the release of the information that should be public record. A later estimate placed the administrative costs for the information at a sum not to exceed $850. That may change based on the time frame in which EPA is responding.
The appeal for mediation through OGIS was submitted on the afternoon of January 28: http://goo.gl/an8Qmw
And it’s still going on. Despite assurance that the material would be paid for, I still have not received one page of requested documentation from the original November 4 FOIA request, some 3 ½ months after the request.
A second request was just submitted and already another cycle of bureaucratic roadblocks are starting.
February 21, 2014
Another interesting document has recently come to light through the diligence of Sarah Pace in pursuing answers from her political representatives. This comes in the form of a letter sent from EPA to Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Boehner had inquired of EPA on October 28 regarding the export of STORIS even as she was en route to Ensenada. It apparently took EPA three months to respond, as the letter is dated as received by the Speaker's office on Feb. 5. The letter claims that EPA does not authorize the export of ships, yet when EPA Region IX was contacted prior to the ship’s departure, PCB investigator Christopher Rollins indicated to me on Oct 23 that he had paperwork that STORIS was free of regulated PCBs and was okay to be exported. He obviously didn’t inspect the ship himself or he would have seen evidence contrary to the paperwork that he didn’t actually request until the following day, Oct 24, the day before the ship was towed from Suisun Bay. EPA HQ was also contacted on Oct 28 by concerned parties, including politicians. EPA was also contacted by, from what we understand, an official from Pacific Tugboat Co. as to whether the tug towing STORIS could proceed to Mexico. It is our understanding that EPA HQ gave Pacific Tug permission to proceed, so they DID give permission for export. This letter also seems to attempt to shift responsibility (and potential blame) for abatement of PCBs on board STORIS to the owners of the ship, Mark Jurisich and John Bryan of San Diego, dba U.S. Metals Recovery, LLC. This is a company registered in Henderson, NV (or San Diego, depending on which business Web site you check). It is NOT a foreign company and there is no sign that STORIS was transferred to a foreign flag to facilitate her dismantling in a foreign scrapyard and otherwise skirt the various environmental laws in place to prevent the export of hazardous materials, particularly PCBs under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
STORIS' export for scrapping is featured prominently in the February news report for Robin des Bois (Robin Hood), an environmental group that monitors, among other things, shipbreaking activities. The report can be viewed here : http://www.robindesbois.org/english/shipbreaking/shipbreaking34.pdf STORIS is mentioned several times throughout the document, but the coverage of her export begins on page 8. The main site is located here: http://www.robindesbois.org/english/english.html
February 19, 2014
A Freedom of Information Act Request was sent to the U.S. Coast Guard for records related to USCGC STORIS on November 4, in addition to the FOIAs sent to GSA, MARAD, and the EPA. Three weeks passed with no acknowledgement from the Coast Guard, so I contacted by phone the Coast Guard FOIA office.
At that point, I spoke with Amanda Ackerson, a civilian in the FOIA department. She indicated that there was no record of my FOIA. She told me that she would have to look for it. After a few moments, she indicated that she found record of my submission and that I would have to wait until it was assigned to a coordinator for review.
Later that afternoon, I received an acknowledgement from Ms Ackerson by email that the FOIA had been officially recognized as submitted to the CG. However, the rest of the email then went into verbiage that the request was overly broad and would have to be made more specific in order to be fulfilled. I was given 30 days to respond or it would be assumed by USCG that I was abandoning my request.
The acknowledgement from CG FOIA is here, along with the original FOIA submission: http://goo.gl/AQoAbV
I submitted a written response on December 8 by email and sent a copy by US Postal Service Certified Mail. That is here: http://goo.gl/qCgaeE
The appeal was courtesy copied to staff members of Senators Mark Begich (AK), Sherrod Brown (OH) and Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Bob Latta of Ohio. It is unknown whether these staff members acted on any of the information shared with them.
In response to the appeal, I received an email message from Amanda Ackerson on December 11 indicating that CG would proceed.
I have heard nothing from Coast Guard since.
I sent an email on Feb. 4, 2014 requesting an update. This was three months to the day that the original FOIA request had been submitted. Again, nothing.
The December 11 response, my acknowledgement and the February 4 email are here: http://goo.gl/IgP2CT
I left a phone message at 3:43 p.m. this afternoon (Feb. 19) for Amanda Ackerson and I am awaiting a response.
February 18, 2014
Here is a link to a freshly released GAO report about ship disposal through the U.S. Maritime Administration. I am working to acquire more documentation to see how this fits in with the grand scheme of the situation with STORIS. Another request for information through EPA has gone out, even though they have yet to respond with the requested materials from the first FOIA submitted 3 1/2 months ago.
Nevertheless, the GAO report is still relevant and interesting reading. There is a reference to disposal agreements between MARAD and GSA and USCG on page 20. There are no references to the Amaya Curiel Scrapyard in Ensenada being a "qualified ship disposal facility" for obsolete American vessels.
The overall determination of the report is that MARAD needs to improve its communication and transparency in the disposal process for obsolete vessels. No kidding. http://gao.gov/assets/670/660899.pdf