The tired and aging North Seas freighter named Helena Star had one moment of incandescent notoriety in 1978 when the Coast Guard, acting on a tip, boarded her off the Pacific Northwest coast and seized 38 tons of marijuana valued at about $75 million. It was the biggest bust ever at that time.
The last moment in a long, sad life came Wednesday as she was towed to Seattle and the breakers.
Her crew of 10 went to jail after their arrest 150 miles at sea. No one, however, found anything useful for the Helena Star to do. There were dreamers with ideas, but nothing came of any of that.
For 36 years after she and her crew were arrested on the high seas, the 168-foot Helena Star was an ugly wart on the waterfront in Seattle and, later, in Tacoma. So rotten that a tree rooted in bilge planks and grew up through holes in the deck, she sank last year in the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma, spilling fuel oil and pulling a fishing boat under, too.
Finally she was declared a derelict, an obstacle to navigation and an environmental threat should her diesel tanks leak again. Her owner faced criminal charges for abandonment and pollution.
With funds from the federal government and the Washington legislature, Global Diving and Salvage patched her rotten hull, lifted her upright with two large barge-mounted cranes, pumped her dry and, with Coast Guard approval, delivered her to Seattle. The cost: an estimated $1.2 million.
She will be cleansed of contaminants and cut up for scrap at Stabbert Yacht and Shipyard on Lake Union. Getting there required passage through the Ballard Locks. Reports said it was a slow process, but there were no problems.
She was built in the Netherlands in 1947 and earned a living for years serving European communities. After many name changes she wound up on the Pacific Coast and in the hands of would-be smugglers (one or some of whom probably talked too much and the Coast Guard got the message).