EPA divers inspect old sunken ship

EPA divers inspect old sunken ship
SEATTLE -- Derelict vessels pose a number of problems, from leaking toxic materials into the water to preventing other vessels from safe navigation.

Divers with the Environmental Protection Agency descended on an old U.S. Coast Guard cutter sunken in the Lake Washington Ship Canal to determine if she's a hazard.

Her bow peeks above the water line on the Ballard side of the Ship Canal.The rest of the Onondaga is submerged, in about 25 feet of water. It's a far cry from her days as a U.S. Coast Guard cutter.

The 165-foot vessel served during World War II, was decommissioned in 1947 and sold in 1954. Her history from there is murky.

"We don't know for sure when the vessel went down," said Sean Sheldrake, the diving unit's officer. "Our best reports are on the order of decades ago, in the mid 80s."

So why is the EPA diving her now?

"As you can see, it hasn't gone anywhere since it sunk. And it's still a question people ask, 'Is it a problem?"' said Sheldrake.

Diver Chad Shulze checked to see if fuel, batteries or other chemicals could leak and contaminate the water.

"There was nothing there. There were a couple holes in the deck that we peered through. No debris, no sign of any hazardous materials down there," Shulze said.

In addition to the question of potential dangers, there's also the question of the possibility of lost revenue.

If the state has to pay to clean this up, it could be very costly.

"Navigation issues always crop up when you have a derelict vessel in shallow water and become a part of the question of whether it needs to be removed or not," Sheldrake said.

The Onondaga is just one of a couple hundred vessels on the derelict list, and a survey like Wednesday's helps officials prioritize the removal of the most hazardous vessels.

State lawmakers just passed a bill to hold boat owners more accountable for abandoning a vessel. The governor is reviewing the bill, according to her office.