Wash. AG files charges against owner of Columbia derelict vessel

OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL NEWS RELEASE -- Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced criminal charges today in Benton County District Court against the owner of a former salmon fishing trawler who abandoned his sunken vessel in the Columbia River near Finley, Wash. in July 2013. This is the first state-initiated derelict vessel prosecution in Eastern Washington.

Working with Benton County Prosecutor, Andy Miller, the Attorney General's Office charged Brandon Traner, owner of the M/V Forus, with one count of abandoning a derelict vessel and another count of discharge of polluting matters into state waters.
The charges carry a maximum of 364 days in jail or a $10,000 fine plus restitution and assessments.

"Derelict vessels cause substantial environmental damage and cost taxpayers millions of dollars," Ferguson said. "Environmental crimes will not be tolerated and my office will hold owners of these derelict vessels accountable."

"I appreciate the opportunity to partner with the federal government and the Attorney General's Office to address these crimes," Miller said.

Special Agent Jennifer Fitchorn of the Criminal Investigations Division of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted the investigation that led to the charges.

The state alleges Traner was evicted from the Columbia Marine Center in Pasco in July 2013. According to the affidavit of probable cause, he asked his friend, Lyle Aylett, to pilot the Forus to the Hat Rock Marina in Oregon. Aylett told the investigator, the vessel began taking on water in the middle of the navigation channel, forcing him to abandon it and swim to safety.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, the Forus sank in the middle of the Columbia River in approximately 40 feet of water. The vessel reportedly carried 50 gallons of diesel and eight gallons of motor and hydraulic oils. Court documents state the masts posed a threat to passing barges and vessels in that well-trafficked area.
In the investigation, EPA Region 10 On-Scene Coordinator Richard Franklin reported contacting Traner to remove the vessel. Traner reportedly told Franklin he did not have the resources or insurance to respond or remove it.

Due to difficulties in lifting the vessel from the bottom of the river, the state alleges it took more than a month to remove the Forus from the river. The removal effort prevented the potential release of an additional 159 gallons of fuel. The Forus was then taken to the Port of Pasco for storage until it was eventually dismantled and sent for disposal.

The state has spent more than $100,000 in cleanup and recovery costs.

The case is the third such case filed by Ferguson, who has made prosecuting environmental crimes a priority of his administration. He filed charges against the owners of two other derelict vessels in late January: the Helena Star of Pierce County and the Chickamauga of Kitsap County. Both leaked hundreds of gallons of fuel into Puget Sound with expected clean-up costs to exceed $1 million.