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High seas driftnetter to be scrapped, not shot to Davy Jones

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
The Bangun Perkasa is a stateless, rat-infested ship that U.S. Coast Guard intercepted in waters off Alaska's coast on suspicion of illegal drift net fishing. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

The high seas driftnetter Bangun Perkasa will never fish or float again, and it won't be going down in a blaze of gunfire.

"We're going to cut it up and make it go away," said Dan Magone, whose company was awarded a federal contract last month to destroy the vessel seized by the Coast Guard in September 2012 for violating an international ban on driftnet fishing.

Federal authorities decided to destroy the vessel instead of selling it or using for military target practice, according to Julie Speegle, a spokesperson for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau.

"The reason we're doing it is to insure that it will never be used again for illegal fishing," she said.

U.S. Senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska, had called for the 140-foot vessel's sinking in a military target practice exercise.

"That was a suggestion," Speegle said. "There are a lot of environmental concerns in using it for target practice. That suggestion was discarded as a possibility." Those concerns involved the potential release of fuel and other toxics into the marine ecosystem, she said.

Speegle said demolition started April 22, with a completion date of July 22 specified in the contract with Magone Marine Service, of Unalaska.

Asbestos removal has been completed, and the next step is removing the remaining hazardous material including fuel and oil, Magone said Monday. The steel boat will be cut into pieces, and shipped to Seattle for recycling, he said.

Magone said the federal agency is paying "a couple of hundred grand approximately" for his company's services on Ballyhoo Road, where the boat has been tied up since soon after its arrival in Unalaska in federal custody, with 22 crewmembers from four Asian nations.

Speegle said the crew consisted of 10 Vietnamese, seven Indonesians, four Chinese, and one Taiwanese. They were returned to their home countries, she said. Found on board were 30 tons of squid, 30 sharks, and 10 miles of driftnet.

The seafood products were sold to Westward Seafoods, in Unalaska.

Despite advertisements in newspapers including the Asian Wall Street Journal, nobody came forward to claim the squid catcher vessel, which was eventually forfeited to the federal government.

The vessel was not brought into town until Magone crews exterminated a small number of rats, commuting daily by boat to the anchored vessel. Magone said the offshore extermination unnecessarily added to taxpayer expense because the rodents could have been more economically killed at the dock, minus the cost of multiple boat trips back and forth.

Even if they jumped ship, it wouldn't have mattered much, considering the already abundant local rat population, Magone said last year.

While the fishing vessel awaited offshore de-ratting, its crew was brought to the Coast Guard Dock by the state trooper patrol vessel Stimson. The fishermen were all wearing white face masks, a routine medical precaution required by federal authorities to prevent the spread of disease, fisheries enforcement officer Matt Brown in Juneau said.

The Bangun Perkasa was first spotted driftnetting 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak by an aircraft on Sept. 7, 2012, leading to its pursuit by the Coast Guard cutter Munro, she said.

No other high seas driftnetters have been seized since, Speegle said, although the Coast Guard pursued another one last July. The stateless vessel Da Cheng was last seen fleeing towards Japanese waters, as the pursuit was disrupted by stormy weather, she said.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission. Jim Paulin can be reached at paulinjim(at)yahoo.com.