Notorious Drug Smuggling Ship to be Scrapped

Published Jul 25, 2014 11:48 AM by The Maritime Executive

A freighter seized off the coast of Washington state nearly four decades ago in one of the largest marijuana busts in the region's history was moved to Seattle on Thursday and will eventually be scrapped, local officials said.

The Helena Star was towed from Tacoma to Seattle by state agencies and will be inspected and broken down over the next week, said Bob Redling of Washington's Department of Natural Resources.

The ship was successfully raised from the Hylebos Waterway and is now dewatered, patched and floating on its own. Global Diving and Salvage Inc. will continue to assess the vessel and get an approved tow plan to move the ship to Stabbert Marine & Yacht in Seattle in the coming days. It will be dismantled and disposed of at that facility.

No significant environmental issues have been observed. An expected sheen produced as the vessel came up, but it was confined to the primary containment. No sheen was observed outside of the second line of boom and no significant sediment plumes were observed during the lift.

The drug smuggling ship made national headlines when it was seized by the Coast Guard in 1978 with 37 tons of marijuana on board. At the time, it was the biggest maritime pot bust in West Coast history.

Helena Star's South American captain and eight crew members were arrested, and the flagless ship, en route to Canada, was docked in Seattle.

The vessel eventually made it to auction and changed hands among private owners several times before being purchased by a Tacoma man who docked the rusting, ageing structure in the city's Hylebos Waterway, Redling said.

In 2013, the Helena Star sank, spilling 640 gallons of oil and diesel gasoline into the waterway and taking down another vessel next to it. The owner of the ship, Stephen Mason, has been charged with abandoning a vessel and polluting state waterways. He faces up to a year in jail if convicted.

The ship must dry out and undergo inspection before it is scrapped, Redling said. The sale of the scrap, estimated to bring in about $1 million, was unlikely to cover the price tag of recovery and demolition, he said.