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Beirut explosion underscores risks of abandoned vessels

The Rhosus was only supposed to be in Beirut’s harbor for a short time. The 284-foot cargo vessel had been en route to Mozambique with her cargo of ammonium nitrate when she made an unscheduled detour to Lebanon to pick up additional cargo.

When she arrived, either due to failing a Port State Control inspection, or as a result of a failure to pay port fees, the vessel was forbidden by authorities to depart. In the years that followed, the ship owners, flag state, owners of the cargo, the crew and the local port authorities all failed to figure out a way to safely deal with the vessel and cargo.

The vessel ultimately flooded and sank in the port in 2018. Her cargo—offloaded years earlier and sitting abandoned in a warehouse—produced an enormous and deadly explosion in August.

Down at the Port of Olympia, the former Washington state ferry Evergreen State does not contain a cargo of deadly explosives, but her future is as uncertain as that of the Rhosus when it first tied up in Beirut back in 2013.

Sold to the owner of a broadcasting company back in 2017, the 310-foot ferry, which has a fuel capacity of 30,000 gallons, has languished at the dock in the Port of Olympia ever since. The initial plan for the vessel to stay alongside only briefly, in preparation for a transit to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal, has long since been set aside.

Now with $32,000 in unpaid moorage fees as of June 2020, and a lapse in insurance coverage, the vessel has been seized by the Port. Plans are apparently in the works to auction off the vessel.

It remains to be seen if a successful auction will result in the vessel departing Budd Inlet. Providing moorage to vessels nearing the end of their life span—the Evergreen State was built in 1954—is a risky business. It was easy for officials at the Port of Olympia to welcome this vessel to Budd Inlet, but they will need to pay much closer attention if they want to avoid a financially disastrous outcome.

Chatham Strait is the pen name of a professional mariner who lives in the Puget Sound area.


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...material from the Olympia police investigation of the 2018 death…