AG Ferguson Secures Derelict
by Dan Thesman
KENNEWICK -- Attorney General Bob Ferguson yesterday secured the first derelict vessel conviction in Benton County. The defendant, Brandon Traner, will serve 20 days in jail and pay restitution for abandoning a derelict fishing trawler in the Columbia River.
Traner, owner of the M/V Forus, pleaded guilty to the two charged offenses:
"Derelict vessels cause substantial environmental damage and cost taxpayers millions of dollars," Ferguson said. "This conviction sends a strong message: My office will track down environmental criminals and hold them accountable."
The Attorney General's Office worked closely with Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller on this case.
"We are thankful for the Attorney General's success in achieving a just verdict," said Miller. "Joint efforts like this help keep our rivers clean and safe."
Defendant arrested in Oregon to face Washington charges
Traner failed to appear for his arraignment on March 21, 2014, and a $2,100 arrest warrant was issued. Authorities contacted Traner in Oregon. He advised them that he planned to "out wait" the efforts to prosecute him and would not return to Washington to face charges.
The AGO responded by moving to increase Traner's bail to $50,000 and permit his extradition from Oregon. After the AGO's motion was granted, the AGO worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon State Police and Washington State Patrol to apprehend Traner outside his Portland home on July 30.
Traner made his first court appearance yesterday afternoon from the Benton County Jail, and pleaded guilty to both charges.
Background on the derelict vessel, M/V Forus
Traner was evicted from the Columbia Marine Center in Pasco in July 2013. According to the state's affidavit of probable cause, Traner asked his friend, Lyle Aylett, to pilot the Forus to the Hat Rock Marina in Oregon. Aylett told the investigator the vessel soon began taking on water in the middle of the navigation channel, forcing him to abandon it and swim to safety.
The Forus sank in the middle of the Columbia River in approximately 40 feet of water. The vessel reportedly carried 50 gallons of diesel and 8 gallons of motor and hydraulic oils. Court documents state the masts posed a threat to passing barges and vessels in that well-trafficked area.
Due to difficulties in lifting the vessel from the bottom of the river, it took more than a month to remove the Forus from the river. The removal effort prevented the potential release of an additional 159 gallons of fuel. The Forus was then taken to the Port of Pasco for storage until it was eventually dismantled and sent for disposal.
The state has spent more than $100,000 in cleanup and recovery costs.
Ferguson has made prosecuting environmental crimes a priority of his administration. He filed charges against the owners of two other derelict vessels in late January: the Helena Star of Pierce County and the Chickamauga of Kitsap County. Both leaked hundreds of gallons of fuel into Puget Sound with expected clean-up costs to exceed $1 million.
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