Crab boat owner fined $300K over Penn Cove oil spill

The state Department of Ecology levied a $301,000 fine against the man whose crab boat caught fire and sank in Penn Cove in 2012, causing an oil spill that temporarily shut down nearby Penn Cove Shellfish.

It’s just the latest bad news for Rory Westmoreland, a 51-year-old scrap-metal dealer with a history of running afoul of environmental rules, according to the Department of Ecology.

Westmoreland is facing a misdemeanor charge in Island County District Court for allegedly abandoning the 128-foot Deep Sea crab boat.

Friday, he pleaded not guilty in King County Superior Court to charges by the Attorney General’s Office that he abandoned about 40 barrels of hazardous waste in a property from which he was evicted in 2012, the Attorney General’s Office reported.

The state charged Westmoreland with one count of violating the hazardous waste management act, a felony, and another gross-misdemeanor count of unlawful dumping of solid waste without a permit.

Dick Walker, a member of the spills response team, characterized the $301,000 fine as “very large for the Department of Ecology.” He said Westmoreland was fined for three reasons: for failing to report an oil spill, for failing to clean up an oil spill and for the oil spill itself.

The fire response, oil spill response and the salvage of the boat from the floor of Penn Cove was performed by a team of public agencies, as well as the Coast Guard. State agencies, including the Department of Ecology and the Department of Natural Resources, spent more than $2.8 million on the incident.

Walker said the Department of Ecology recovered $1.56 million in spill response expenses from the National Pollution Fund Center; he said the federal government is going to go after Westmoreland to recoup the money.

On the night of May 12, 2012, the Deep Sea caught fire — in what was later determined to be arson — while illegally anchored on state-owned aquatic lands, according to the Department of Ecology. Westmoreland had the boat towed to Penn Cove in December of 2011; Walker said Westmoreland wouldn’t say what his plans were for the boat, though officials suspect that he planned to scrap it.

Firefighters attacked the fire that night and the next day, but it rolled on its port side and sank May 13.

Approximately 5,555 gallons of oil were released, according to the Department of Ecology.

Diving contractors hired by the U.S. Coast Guard removed 3,100 gallons of oil from the sunken vessel.

The boat was raised and towed to King County, where it was eventually cut up into scrap metal.

Westmoreland is scheduled to go to trial in Island County District Court Sept. 11 on the derelict vessel charge.

Jessie Stensland: 360-675-6611, ext. 5056; jstensland@whidbeynewsgroup.com.

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