The Best Pot-Runner Washington Ever Knew is Headed for Scrap

Despite it’s singular place in Washington history, there will be no museum treatment for the Helena Star after crews this week scoop the vessel from the bottom of Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway.

The famous pot-runner is headed for the scrap yard.

“We did our due diligence on the cultural and archeological value of the vessel,” Department of Natural Resources spokesman Toni Droscher said today. “It didn’t pass muster.”

As Rick Anderson elucidated for us earlier this year, the Helena Star was seized by the Coast Guard off the Washington coast in 1978. When agents boarded the old Dutch freighter, they found 37 tons of marijuana, valued at $75 million in 1978 dollars (with inflation, that works out to a little over a quarter billion in today’s dollars).

“The haul ... remains the region’s (and one of the nation’s) largest dope busts ever,” Anderson wrote.

But like many stars of the 1970s, the Helena Star slowly sunk into obscurity before sinking into the Sound last January.

Today, the 700-ton crane barge DB General arrived at the Hylebos Waterway to prepare to hoist the vessel out of the water, where it poses all sorts of risks to other boats navigating the waters, as well as the environment. When the Helena Star sank, nearly 600 gallons of diesel and lube oil spilled into the waterway. Derelict vessels have become a major problem in Washington State in recent years, and DNR received a special $4.5 million appropriation from the legislature to deal with huge sunken vessels like the Helena Star.

The total cost of removing the Star is not yet known.

Droscher said her department has had a tough time tracking down an exact history of the boat, including where it was built – information that would help crews know now to best handle the vessel. While many thought it was built in the Netherlands, Droscher said there’s some evidence it came from Portland.

However, “we did come across a website, and it was all in Dutch,” Droscher said.

Once the boat is out of the water, it will be taken to a dry-dock in Seattle, then scrapped. But first investigators will give a final look over the Helena Star to see why it sank, just in case it has one more story to tell.

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