|Old Tug Gets No Respect, No Respect at All|
Published: Friday, 11 May 2007 23:35
It's a case of piracy on the low seas.
A 700-ton antique tugboat, apparently mistakenly sunk by slapstick vandals, sits submerged in Estuary mud as the Canadian owner of the ship faces deadlines and unknown costs.
Photo courtesy of Dutra Construction Co. Inc.
The Respect recently sank in the Estuary after a group of slapstick vandals marauded her.
"It's in a federal channel; we are involved in working with the owner in removing the vessel," said Mike Dillabough, chief of the Operations and Readiness Division of the San Francisco District of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. "Right now it has been declared a navigation hazard.
"I'm assuming the boat was robbed," he said.
The 150-foot-long tug Respect was moored to a barge for about a year, approximately 1,100 feet west of the Park Street Bridge. About six months ago, the barge sank. The Respect remained afloat, but listed on ebbing tides.
Like a ghost ship in a mothballed fleet, the uninhabited boat was a familiar sight.
Perhaps a little too familiar.
Workers at a company adjacent to the Respect observed vandals making repeated trips to the vessel and stealing metal parts, presumably to sell to scrap dealers.
According to employees of a nearby firm, on the afternoon of April 9 three unidentified men set sail aboard a large but barely seaworthy kayak for a metal scavenging mission aboard the Respect. The three later emerged from below deck, hoisting sacks of semi-precious booty. As bag after bag of scrap was lowered unto their puny craft, the three men's boat appeared comically overloaded. Just after the second man boarded to make his escape, their tiny ship foundered and an instant later, was scuttled. According to witnesses, the scene dredged up Vaudeville memories as one of the three couldn't swim and splashed around the Estuary in true slapstick fashion.
It was no laughing matter a day later. At about 8 a.m. on April 10, the Respect itself sank. Dillabough of the Corps and Chris Peterson, the area manager of Dutra Construction, suspect that the vandals pilfered the Respect's seacock valve, an object enabling seawater to cool marine engines. Dillabough said seacock valves are typically made of brass and copper. "It looked good, it looked shiny, and they took it."
According to experts, thefts of building materials, especially copper, have become nearly epidemic in the Bay Area, as redemption prices for scrap metal have risen. Rising popularity of methamphetamines has also spurred a burgeoning trade and more brazen thefts as addicts seek quick bucks to feed their fix.
"Basically when a building becomes abandoned, people flock to it to scavenge the porcelain, like toilets and sinks, copper wiring, copper and copper tubing," said Art Brandt of the Alameda Police Department's property crimes unit. "I think copper right now is going for like $3 a pound. [These thefts are] not something unique to Alameda, Brandt said.
Peterson said the valve probably would have netted the vandals between $1 and $10 from a scrap yard, if it hadn't sunk with the vandal's hapless get-away boat. Costs to raise the Respect could easily run more than $100,000.
Ron Cook, the Canadian owner of the ship, did not return repeated telephone calls.
Several people familiar with the case said rumors are circulating that Cook purchased the Respect for between $1 and $100 about six months ago.
Theft from abandoned buildings is also rife at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, according to Michael Schiess a museum technician. "[I am] amazed at the lengths to which these scrappers will go to, to get a hunk of copper," Schiess said. "There are two buildings that I know of that have been vandalized heavily. One is Building Three, the ex-mess hall and the other is the recreation center," he said.
Fences have proven no deterrent. "Every time I come by, they've broken back in," Schiess said.
Peterson said the same is true near his business. Peterson said that in the past vandals and vagrants have cut through his fences to access the Marine Corps staging area west of his property. Thefts from nearby ships remain commonplace. "We've had found parts of the boat turn upon our dock, and we've also had stuff go missing from our own property," Peterson said.
As for clearing the Estuary, officials say to be patient. "We have a regulation book that's fairly thick; there's a lot of ifs, ands and ors here," said Dillabough. "Right now we're trying to work with the owner," he said. "It is very slow and costly for the government to do it."
The Respect joins another tugboat; two barges and another unidentified vessel all sunken near the same spot. Yet another boat, the Elizabeth A, was removed from the location a year ago. Dillabough said it cost nearly $300,000 to remove the vessel. The abandoned Elizabeth A was loaded with toxic chemicals by unknown persons by the time authorities dealt with it.
For now, the Respect is entirely submerged, and three buoys warn boaters to give it a wide berth. But authorities say the Respect will be dealt with. "The channel at that point is 275 feet wide," Dillabough said. "Approximately 30 percent of it is blocked so 200 feet is still useable. At very low tide you can see part of it, the stern is about eight inches below the water," he said.