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“You know that boat? It’s on fire!”
Excerpts of an interview with Ian Jefferds about the sinking of the Deep Sea, a derelict Alaskan crab trawler:
The boat was towed in here last Christmas Eve. It was moored a couple hundred yards from our nearest mussel platform. We were worried from the beginning. My farm manager, Tim Jones, went out in a skiff right away to see what was going on. There was a guy on board coming down into a dinghy (editor’s note: probably Rory Westmoreland, the boat’s owner from Renton) who said he bought it at a scrapyard and was going to moor it here but wasn’t sure what he was going to do with it. He said he was leaving it in Penn Cove because he had friends who had moorage rights that came with their RV camping-lot privileges on North Whidbey. That sounded suspicious – and it turned out to be totally untrue.
Our primary concern was how well it was moored. We get some pretty good westerly winds, and if a westerly is blowing hard and a 47,000-ton boat was to drag on its moorage, it would just roll right through the mussel farm. We called everybody. The Coast Guard, the Department of Natural Resources, the Island County Sheriff. They did a basic inspection to see if it was in danger of sinking, but they didn’t really sound the fuel tanks. The owner told the Coast Guard there were about 120 gallons aboard. I think they ended up pumping off 3,500 gallons, plus what burned and evaporated.
(Five months went by as the Coast Guard ordered Westmoreland to move the boat and began assessing a daily fine. Nothing happened.)
I heard about the fire early on the morning of Sunday, May 13. It had started the night before, sometime around 11:30 p.m. I was taking some time off, over in the Methow Valley of the North Cascades. About 5:30 in the morning, I got a call from my brother, Rawle. “You know that boat? It’s on fire!” I packed up my stuff and came back as fast as I could. At that point, all you see was a lot of smoke. Everybody was there – Coast Guard, Department of Ecology, Sheriff, Fire and Rescue. They did a great job getting it under control. All we could do was watch.
About 6 p.m., I finished giving an interview to Channel 4 news and drove into town to get some supper. I no more than sat down at the Front Street Grill, and my phone rang. It was the guy from Channel 4, and he said, “The boat just sank.” I thought he was kidding me. No, he said, it just sank. So I went racing back up there, and it was gone.
I remember talking to my engineer earlier that afternoon and he told me he was concerned about it sinking. He went by it in a skiff late in the afternoon and saw smoke coming out of the bilge holes. That meant the fire had melted the plastic bilge pipes on the other side. As the firefighters were pouring water on the boat, sea water was also pouring in through the bilge holes.
What was going through my mind? Frustration. While the fire was being doused but before it sank, the incident commander came up to me and said the owner of the boat was trying to reach me. So I called him back. And he was just denying any responsibility. He was giving me a “woe-is-me” story about how tough this was on him. He asked me if I knew anybody that could take the boat, and he would appreciate my help in finding a new home for it.
I couldn’t believe this guy. Really? You left this mess in my yard, and you’re telling me your stories of woe?
(Federal and state officials continue to investigate the cause of the fire that caused the Deep Sea to sink, and they confirm that they consider the fire to be a possible arson incident.)