Fire destroys Penn Cove crab boat

A derelict 128-foot crab fishing boat that's been moored in Penn Cove for months was ravaged by fire late Saturday evening.

According to Chad Michael, battalion chief for Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, the blaze was first reported at 11:08 p.m. The boat, the fishing vessel Deep Sea, is moored just outside of Penn Cove ShellFish's mussel rafts just west of Coupeville.

The inferno raged unchecked for about two hours before fire boats from Camano Island Fire and Rescue and the U.S Coast Guard arrived and began hitting the vessel with water.

The flames above deck were largely extinguished but fires below were still burning as of 9 a.m. Sunday morning. Also, a sheen from an unknown material was visible on the surface of the water and appeared to be flowing toward the mussel rafts.

"I'm pissed and I'm bummed," said Rawle Jefferds, one of the farms owners.

Standing on the side of Madronna Way, Jefferds said the vessel has been a worry since it arrived in Penn Cove late last year. Although it's still unclear just what the material is, there is potential for contamination.

"God knows what's in that boat," Jefferds said.

The name of the vessel's owner could not be confirmed, though another newspaper has reported that it belongs to Renton resident Rory Westmoreland.

Michael said he is working with the Coast Guard on a containment strategy and that Washington State Ferries is expected to make available about 2,000 feet of floating oil boom.

Michael said the blaze was first reported from the jail in Coupeville. Facility authorities noticed a strong burning smell and called 911. It was only later determined that it was the boat that was on fire.

"It was actually discovered by accident," he said.

A Central Whidbey marine unit was the first boat to hit the water. Although it didn't have firefighting capabilities, it was sent out to see if anyone was on the boat or in the water. No one was found.

The Camano Island fireboat arrived at about 1 a.m. and started dousing the flames. Those above deck were largely put out by the time a Coast Guard boat from Seattle arrived and began to assist.

However, efforts were called off at about 2:30 a.m. because the ship appeared to be listing. The fear was that the boat was filing with water and would founder.

"The Coast Guard was afraid that if it reached 45 degrees it would sink," Michael said.

By morning, it was confirmed that the list was a pre-existing condition and firefighting efforts resumed.

Once the flames are totally extinguished, the vessel is expected to be towed and hauled out of the water at an undetermined location. Michael said he hoped that would occur sometime today but couldn't be sure because the arrangements will be made by the Coast Guard.

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