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The Wreck of the New Carissa
The New Carissa Saga
new carissa
The New Carissa
On February 4, 1999, Captain Benjamin Morgado of the New Carissa chose a location about 1.6 miles off the Coos Bay North Spit to anchor for a stormy night.  The ship ran aground leaking about 70,000 gallons of oil and killing 2,300 seabirds. 
Since the wood chip freighter rested in state waters, she came under the jurisdiction of the Oregon State Land Board and its administrative agency the Department of State Lands (DSL). 
For two years, numerous failed attempts were made to move, sink and dismantle the vessel. By 2001, she had been stripped, torpedoed, burned, split in half and partially buried.  However, two large rusted chunks of the stern still remained on a state beach north of Coos Bay.  
Captain John Noble, an independent salvage expert commissioned by the ship's owners, claimed that the best option was to leave the remaining one-third of the ship, weighing about 2,000 tons, on the beach.  He cited a potentially dangerous and difficult work environment if removal actions were taken as chief reasons to leave the structure in the surf.  Environmentalists, federal biologists and many Coos Bay residents opposed this option, saying it could devastate sensitive beach habitat.
Owners File Federal Lawsuit
The ship's owners filed a $96 million federal lawsuit in 2001, blaming faulty government sea charts, a lack of warning by a Coos Bay bar pilot, and an extreme, unpredicted surge in wave energy that dragged the ship's anchor and left it grounded in the sand. 
This lawsuit did not go to trial until 2004.  The case was settled June 8, 2004.  The owners of the ship were ordered to pay the federal government $4 million for damage to natural resources and an additional $6.5 million for oil spill cleanup costs incurred by the Coast Guard.  In turn, the federal government was ordered to pay $4 million to the owner of the ship in settlement of their $96 million claim regarding the grounding.
Unhappy with the prospect of leaving the beached ship, in April 2001, Gov. John Kitzhaber, as chair of the State Land Board, ordered the wreck removed or the payment of a $25 million bond to the state from the ship's owners, Panama-based Green Atlas Shipping S.A.  The bond would be held to cover long-term management costs to the state from actions such as lawsuits to recover damages to natural resources or harm to individuals. 
In October of the same year, the state of Oregon filed a lawsuit in Coos County against the owners of the vessel seeking removal, storage fees of $1,500 per day since the ship went aground in 1999 (totaling about $1.5 million by this time), complete restoration of the beach, and unspecified monetary relief.  DSL led the state's efforts to deal with the shipwreck and lawsuit. 
Trial Held in Coos County
When deliberation began in November 2002, the state cited the failure of Capt. Morgado to follow the instruction in the ship's safety manual for conditions at anchorage, the failure to engage the ship's global positioning system to warn the crew if the ship moved outside its designated area, and the ship owner's "do nothing" plan to save the expense of removing the stern. 
New Carissa aground near Coos BayIn turn, the ship's owners claimed that the ship would not be beached had it not been for the federal government's failure to update navigational maps, the Coos Bay area bar pilot who failed to advise Morgado not to anchor in the area because of the predicted bad weather, and the higher-than-predicted wave surge during the storm.
On November 13, 2002, in a 10-2 ruling, the Coos County jury found the owners of the ship guilty of negligent trespass and awarded Oregon $25 million to pay for the removal of the New Carissa.  The $25 million award has been transferred to an escrow account awaiting resolution of an appeal of the verdict in the Oregon Court of Appeals by the ship's owners. 
The State Land Board on May 23, 2006 approved settlement of the appeal which will enable the state to remove the wreckage of the New Carissa. See news release.
The Department of State Lands on May 22, 2007, signed a $16.5 million contract with Titan, a worldwide marine salvage and shipwreck company, to remove the New Carissa wreckage by Oct. 1, 2008.