CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where police reporter Julie Johnson answers readers’ questions about local crimes and the law.
More than a month later, and with big waves coming, the fishing boat Verna A II is still on the beach near Bodega Bay. It reeks of diesel fuel, too. Any idea of the plan to remove it?
— Stephen Wells
The 54-foot steel-hulled Verna A II has been stranded in the surf zone of South Salmon Creek Beach since it ran aground Sept. 11. For 51 days and counting, the green fishing vessel with its classic silhouette has become the muse of North Coast water color artists, amateur photographers and at least one Halloween costume creator.
Stripped of fuels, batteries and other chemicals, the boat is no longer considered an immediate pollutant and there are no plans to remove it from the beach, officials from several agencies said. The boat rests on a Sonoma Coast State Park beach within the boundaries of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, purview of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The fate of the 33-ton commercial fishing vessel is in the hands of its captain, 57-year-old Roy Underwood, who had no insurance, according to federal and state agency officials. Underwood was arrested on a warrant out of Mendocino County shortly after his rescue, according to federal and state agency officials. He served 26 days for violating probation stemming from a burglary case and was released Oct. 11, jail records show.
Attempts to contact Underwood on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the marine sanctuary, said the NOAA can sometimes pay to have boats removed when they pose a potential threat to the marine sanctuary, which the Verna A II does. But currently, “Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare,” Schramm said, so the boat will stay put.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Steven Dross, a spokesman stationed with Sector San Francisco, said his agency’s responsibility ended after they rescued the captain from the stranded boat on Sept. 11 and arranged for hazardous chemicals to be removed.
The maritime law enforcement agency, which is also responsible for hazardous spills, paid a crew from Sausalito-based Parker Diving Services to respond that day and again several days later. They pumped out the fuels and removed batteries, petroleum products and household chemicals that were aboard, said Maria Nunn, a safety officer for the company. Nunn said the hull was in good shape but interior areas, the deck and wheelhouse had been neglected. Her company gave the NOAA a salvage plan, with an estimated cost between $100,000 and $200,000, to move the boat out of the surf zone, cut it into manageable pieces and recycle or properly dispose of the materials. They haven’t heard back, she said.
Supervising State Park Ranger Damien Jones said his agency also lacks the funds to get the boat off the beach, and its status as a commercial vessel, versus a recreational one, may be a complicating factor. With the fuels removed, its main hazard is a safety one if people try to climb aboard.
“It sounds like right now we’re stuck with it,” Jones said.
Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Julie Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.