USCGC STORIS Life and Death of a Queen

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June 4, 2015 Media Release

Vitter, Cassidy,Graves Introduce Legislation to Improve Ship Recycling, Create Jobs

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"STORIS Act"

June 4, 2015, U.S. Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) introduced Senate Bill S 1511, the Ships to be Recycled in the States (STORIS) Act. Congressman Garret Graves (R-La.) is introducing the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This legislation is intended to reform the domestic marine recycling industry. Their legislation would improve the domestic ship recycling industry and promote transparency by requiring reports from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and an audit of MARAD by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

STORIS ACT Senate Bill 1511

"STORIS Act" and What it Means to US

In general, this legislation seeks to reform administrative procedures at the U.S. Maritime Administration. Key provisions of this legislation will seek to free up designated funding for U.S. Maritime Heritage sites/facilities across the country as well as state maritime academies. The money is generated through the sales of obsolete MARAD/government vessels and a percentage is to be used for competitive grant funding for these maritime heritage and education organizations. In recent years, MARAD has been hoarding the money, holding back substantial amounts that should be going out as grants even as the various museums and heritage resources struggle to find funds to maintain their operations. There is language that will be beneficial to the efforts to seek answers for STORIS, a bonus for us.

This extremely important part of the legislation calls for an audit of MARAD’s ship recycling program by the GAO. As indicated in the introduction to the media release, there are serious questions about how the Maritime Administration has been operating in terms of its disposal of obsolete government vessels. We now know that GSA should never have been involved with the excessing and disposal of STORIS as that should have been MARAD’s duty under 40 USC 548 because STORIS displaced more than 1,500 tons. We also know that it was illegal to export STORIS to Mexico for scrapping because of Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which prohibits the scrapping of former U.S. Government vessels in foreign scrapyards.

Similar audit language was included in the En Bloc Amendments to the CG Authorization Bill, HR 1987.

Emails received from MARAD through the Freedom of Information Act show that MARAD officials expressed skepticism in the days before STORIS’ departure that the ship was free of PCBs as the Coast Guard and GSA claimed. Yet, these MARAD officials did nothing to stop the sequence of events taking place, despite knowing STORIS was of WWII vintage, making it highly likely she contained regulated materials. They did nothing and released her for export to Mexico for breaking in a substandard yard.

MARAD officials claim that they were just holding STORIS as a “custody ship,” that the responsibility lay elsewhere. However, as the agency charged with overseeing our nation’s maritime fleet, MARAD officials knew better than to allow this situation to take place. That MARAD did not step up to assume its proper role as the rightful agency to handle STORIS’ disposition while allowing the ship to be exported in violation of federal laws raises serious questions about these administrators. There have also been irregularities with MARAD administrators awarding obsolete vessels to ship recycling facilities that did not submit the highest bids. The sums of money involved have exceeded hundreds of thousands of dollars per ship. All that money adds up and it is not a “best value” practice in the best interests for U.S. taxpayers.

This audit is meant to be comprehensive to encompass all of these issues. There is language specifically calling out the review of MARAD agreements with the Coast Guard, GSA, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies for compliance with Section 3502 of the Duncan Hunter NDAA. This will bring the issues with STORIS and her illegal export directly onto the table. The issues with the undocumented materials that likely contained PCBs exported illegally in spite of the PCB Export Ban of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 should also come out as part of that discussion.

In addition to STORIS, the language should encompass what happened with ACUSHNET and her sale through an improper GSA auction, despite her tonnage exceeding 40 USC 548 guidelines. She then became the central component of a federal criminal case since the buyer reportedly swindled a wealthy widow for the money to buy the ship. Then there’s GLACIER, which was sold for scrap by MARAD despite efforts and substantial investment in money, time, labor and parts by a nonprofit group to preserve her as a museum. I’ll be reaching out to veterans of these cutters to seek their support for this legislation, as well. We all deserve answers and these great ships certainly deserved better than what they received at the hands of the federal bureaucracy.

Freedom of Information Act requests were made to the four agencies involved with STORIS’ export on Nov. 4, 2013, right after she was allowed to leave the country (to USCG, GSA, MARAD, EPA). It’s been over a year and a half and the agencies involved still have not fully complied. Coast Guard and GSA will be handled separately. However, MARAD was to have responded to the final FOIA appeal by Feb. 9, 2015 and they have not done so as of this writing. MARAD officials might be able to stall with delays and redactions, but they cannot stall the GAO. MARAD has to show GAO officials ALL their cards and there is no holding back or hiding.

It is conceivable that, as details come out through the MARAD audit, there could be some deeper examinations into these other agencies by GAO or other authorities to see how this disgraceful situation occurred with STORIS. It's pretty clear from what we've been able to glean from the sparse FOIA releases we HAVE received that there were a lot of faulty and improper decisions made across the board with all the agencies involved. This is especially true with the collusion between GSA and USCG to get rid of the ship ASAP with no consideration for the ship's history and other factors like the obvious violation of several federal laws.

Track Senate Bill 1511
Read about the GAO
Track HR Bill 2876

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