Stinson comes to the rescue for the Tasu

11/27/2011

A salvage company contracted through a mix of county, federal and private funds began working this week to remove the Tasu, a 47-foot wooden fishing vessel that errantly ran ashore near Stinson Beach two weeks ago and has sat, beached in controversy, ever since.

Residents and onlookers became infuriated when Coast Guard officials refused to rescue the boat after it came too close to shore on the evening of October 12. “This poor guy is trying to get out, throttling forward and back, all he needed was a little nudge. And the Coast Guard wouldn’t come,” said Vicki Sebastiani, who watched the incident from her home in the nearby Seadrift community and subsequently offered the boat owner, Greg Ambient, dry clothes and a place to sleep.

Stinson Beach Fire Chief Kenny Stevens was also distraught because the boat had hundreds of gallons of diesel aboard, posing a significant environmental threat should it leak. But Coast Guard officials claimed Ambient’s life was never in danger and that the fuel onboard was secure enough. Sebastiani said that response, or lack thereof, does not jibe with the Coast Guard’s mission to minimize “the loss of life, injury, property damage or loss…” “There’s just a disconnect between what they are bragging about themselves and what they are actually doing,” she said.

Ambient, who lives in Santa Cruz, said he’s heard of cases in which the Coast Guard has been sued by people they’ve towed, and that perhaps that explains their hesitation. Still, he said he would have gladly “signed a waiver or whatever they wanted” to remove them from liability. What’s more, the 43-year-old commercial fisherman, who has struggled financially in recent years, had no insurance on the vessel and, after paying $8,000 to a private company just to remove the fuel onboard, was in no position to afford on his own the $50,000 it would cost to hire a salvage company.

Though local residents and public agencies, including Marin County and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, managed to rake together most of the funds to help Ambient pay for the removal—officials expect the project to be completed by this Friday—his livelihood remains largely question. Without a boat and little savings, he has no idea what he is going to do from here. “Just putting one more guy on the welfare roll,” Sebastiani said. “That doesn’t seem right.”