The following is the text of a press release issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:
(PORTLAND, Ore.) — The Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Washington Department of Ecology are beginning the process of removing hazardous materials aboard a derelict vessel on the Oregon side of the Columbia River near Longview, Wash., and Rainier, Ore.
Contractors working under the direction of the Coast Guard are removing oil and other hazardous substances from the ex-USS Washtenaw County (LST-1166), a former 374-foot Navy landing ship. The vessel was decommissioned in 1973 following its service during the Vietnam War and has been privately owned by various entities since. The vessel poses an environmental threat due to deterioration and the presence of hazardous materials and oily waste on board. The threat has been greatly increased by the actions of metal thieves, who stripped piping and fittings from the ship, triggering the release of hazardous substances onto most of the decks aboard the vessel.
The Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Portland issued an order in June 2008 requiring the owner of the vessel to submit a plan for oil and hazardous material cleanup. The owner, a small local non-profit organization, was unable to meet the requirements of the order which resulted in the Coast Guard overseeing the removal of these products.
After an assessment, the Coast Guard, EPA and other state and local agencies have begun the long process of removing hazardous materials on the vessel. Pollution investigators from the combined agencies will continue to oversee cleanup efforts aboard the vessel, which are expected to be completed by the end of October.