Unravelling what happened to the former Coast Guard Cutter STORIS has been time-consuming process. Jon Ottman, who successfully nominated the vessel for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, first started submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests two years ago. He still hasn't received information from several agencies and their lack of response raises significant questions about the government's willingness to expose - or learn from - its glaring mistakes.
Heather Bischoff, a General Services Administration (GSA) employee directed Mr. Ottman to FOIA agency documents related to the STORIS auction on July 1, 2013. Mr. Ottman wanted this information as he had been working with a non-profit organization to turn her into a museum. Ms. Bischoff didn't want to tell him. Mr. Ottman waited two years for GSA to respond to his request and the information he received is mind-blowing.
After Ms. Bischoff told Mr. Ottman to FOIA the documents, she sent an email to GSA and Coast Guard employees. “I am guessing that Jon Ottman contacted you as well ... FYI, I do not believe the Coast Guard should release the winning bidder's information at this time ... I have directed Mr. Ottman to submit a FOIA request to R4 GSA." She then told them that Region 4 (R4) had streamlined the FOIA process and that "(i)t is not a lengthy process." Amazing. Only an agency trying to hide something would define two years as fast.
On November 4, 2013, 10 days after the STORIS was exported to Mexico, Mr. Ottman submitted additional FOIAs to GSA, the Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for information regarding the STORIS sale. After several months of stalling, some documents were sent and Mr. Ottman has since been engaged in a Kafkaesque dance with these federal bureaucracies. He should be applauded for keeping up the good fight and using social media to get the word out and preserve what is the final history of the proud ship.
Executive branch agencies failed the STORIS. They could have supported non-profit efforts to turn her into a museum and helped preserve the nation's maritime heritage as mandated in the National Maritime Heritage Act. Alternatively, they could have complied with the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act and recycled her in the United States. Sadly, executive branch agencies chose a third option - breaking the law and then trying to hide it.
It's time to hold MARAD, EPA, Coast Guard, GSA, and the State Department accountable. The STORIS Act introduced by Senator Vitter and Representative Graves forces these agencies to clean up their act, something everyone in the maritime industry can support. And, this support is needed now as the STORIS isn't the only government ship to be recycled abroad after the 2009 law entered into force.
As reported in Maritime Executive, the Navy sold the Glomar Explorer to Transocean Ltd. in 2010 for $15 million. MARAD then allowed the company to reflag her to Vanuatu in 2013 and Transocean scrapped her in China in 2015. Keep in mind, the Glomar Explorer was the CIA vessel specifically built to capture a sunken Soviet submarine. The paperwork surrounding this caper is still classified so it's highly unusual for the Navy to allow her to be taken apart in China.
For the reasons outlined above and in the two earlier articles, I urge you to support the STORIS Act. Our maritime heritage is at risk and we need Congress to act now.
K. Denise Rucker Krepp, U.S. ship recycling advocate and former Maritime Administration Chief Counsel
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.