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Originally published May 14, 2012 at 8:11 PM | Page modified May 15, 2012 at 12:46 PM

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Owner of boat that burned, sank could end up facing large bill

A derelict fishing boat burned, then sank in Whidbey Island's Penn Cove on Sunday. Efforts were under way on Monday to contain and remove spilled diesel from the water.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A fuel spill from a sunken crab boat in Whidbey Island's Penn Cove temporarily shut down mussel harvest there and could have even longer-term impact on the vessel owner's wallet.

The Coast Guard on Monday evening estimated that about 550 gallons of diesel had been recovered in containment operations from the Deep Sea, a derelict 128-foot vessel that sank early Sunday after a fire.

The state Department of Natural Resources had put the Deep Sea on a "priority list" of abandoned or derelict vessels anchored on state-owned aquatic lands after learning in December that it was illegally moored in Penn Cove.

DNR spokeswoman Toni Droscher said the agency had sent Deep Sea's owner, Rory Westmoreland, a notice of trespass and had issued him fines of more than $5,000 since January, but Westmoreland had neither paid nor followed up on offers to help find new moorage for the vessel.

Droscher said Westmoreland claimed to be confused about ownership of Deep Sea but was, in fact the legal owner. Westmoreland, of Renton, couldn't be reached on Monday.

Penn Cove Shellfish, which produces world-famous mussels, voluntarily suspended operations and discarded the crop from a raft near the Deep Sea spill.

The shellfish weren't contaminated, and state Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer said Penn Cove Shellfish could continue harvests after booms were placed around the fuel spill.

The Coast Guard hired two contractors to contain the spill and salvage the vessel. Vessel owners normally must pay for salvage, but Westmoreland claimed indigency after the fire, so the Coast Guard tapped a federal emergency fund to pay the contractors, said Petty Officer Nathan Bradshaw.

Three layers of containment booms were in place by late afternoon, he said. Ballard Salvage and Diving was working to plug the leak.

Until all the fuel is removed, the state Department of Ecology will be measuring water quality and testing impacts on fish and wildlife.

DNR is tracking about 200 derelict vessels around the Puget Sound. The agency, which manages state ownership of Puget Sound bedlands, has emphasized trespass enforcement of vessels anchored for more than 30 days illegally.

Westmoreland faces potential misdemeanor charges for trespass or vessel abandonment and could also be charged with federal Clean Water Act violations, said Droscher.

"We've seen this happen so many times — people get a boat, think it's a great deal then it becomes the hole in the water you throw thousands of dollars at," she said.

Now, add to the tab the costs to raise and move the boat, which Droscher said could run to "hundreds of thousands" of dollars. DNR will try to recover those costs from Westmoreland, she said.

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jmartin206.

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