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An Oregon jury has awarded the state $25 million to remove a shipwrecked vessel that has been rusting in the sands of Coos Bay since 1999. The recent verdict has been hailed as a critical victory for environmentalists. Oregon v. Taiheiyo Kajun Co., No. 01-CV-0383 (Coos Co., Ore., Dist. Ct.). During rough weather on Feb. 4, 1999, the “New Carissa” ran aground while attempting to dock in the harbor of Coos Bay, located about a two-hour drive north of the California border. The dramatic salvage attempt that ensued involved firebombing the corpse of the vessel to burn off fuel. The body of the ship tore, and ultimately broke in half. The bow was towed out to sea and torpedoed, but the 1,500-ton stern remained stuck in the sand. The ship’s owners maintained that the remains, while an eyesore, posed no environmental threat and that they should leave it in place rather than risk working in a rugged surf. In October 2001, the attorney general sued the three companies responsible for the “New Carissa”: its owner, Green Atlas Shipping of Panama; its operator, TMM Co.; and the parent company of both, Taiheiyo Kaiun Co. of Japan. During a six-week trial, the jury was asked to resolve two central questions: whether the ship’s owners were guilty of trespass; and, if so, whether the economic and environmental damage was permanent or temporary. The latter answer would determine the monetary award. The jury accepted the argument by the state’s lead attorney, William Wheatley of Jaqua & Wheatley in Eugene, Ore., that the captain had been negligent in trying to anchor the vessel when he should have steamed out to sea. In finding that the stern was removable, the jury awarded $25 million — the maximum amount allowed for temporary damages. Brandon Baxter, the associate to William Wheatley, said it was the first maritime case the firm has ever handled. They called on experts from all over the world, he said, including marine salvers and natural resource economists. Though the jury could award for only one type of damage, Baxter said their case had to present theories of both permanent and temporary damage. “We had to make both cases because we didn’t know where we’d end up,” said Baxter. “One case would have made the defense’s job too easy. They could have just proved it [the stern] was impossible to remove.” Rebecca Kamitsuka, the primary attorney at the Oregon Department of Justice, also served as plaintiff’s attorney. The defendants were represented by Roman M. Silberfeld of Minneapolis-based Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi and Robert Sanders of Portland, Ore.’s Wood Tatum Sanders & Murphy. Neither returned phone calls. The ship’s owners have sued the U.S. government, blaming misguided and defective navigational charts for the ship’s demise.

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