Sunken drug-smuggling freighter being removed from waterway

TACOMA, Wash. - Operations are under way to raise and remove the Helena Star, a former drug-smuggling freighter that sank at the old Mason Marine location in Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma last year.

The 167-foot vessel sank Jan. 25, 2013, and has been slowly leaking hundreds of gallons of oil and diesel.

The operation is being coordinated by a joint team involving the state Department of Natural Resources, the Coast Guard, the state Department of Ecology, Tacoma Fire Department and Global Diving and Salvage Inc.

The Hylebos Waterway was listed as a Superfund site in 1983 following the discovery of widespread contamination from more than a century of heavy industrial activity. A massive cleanup and restoration effort has been under way there since 2002.

Removal of the Helena Star and keeping other derelict vessels from adding to the contamination is critical to making progress on cleanup, officials said in a prepared statement

A special, one-time legislative appropriation to the DNR Derelict Vessel Removal Program is funding the raising, patching, towing, dismantling, recycling, and disposal of the vessel.

After a tow to Seattle on Thursday, the vessel will be dismantled at the Stabbert Yacht and Ship facility and recycled, said Lt. Cmdr. Lance Lindgren of the Coast Guard.

The Helena Star made headlines in 1978 when the Coast Guard found $74 million in marijuana on the vessel, which was seized.