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Ship salvage comes to close.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

COOS BAY - Titan Maritime told you so.

The local skeptics remembered the last time someone grappled with the shipwrecked New Carissa from the beach at the North Spit, and they winked and nodded at one another as talk of a new attempt to remove the wood-chip freighter reared anew, sure the job would be even more impossible now that the ship has had nine years to settle into the sand.

Only one company even had the equipment to do the $16.4 million job this time around, as the others scratched their heads and called it "crazy."

"Even within the company, there were people going `Oh, no, we're not going to take the barges out there,'" said Phil Reed, director of engineering for the Florida company that's been cutting away at the wreck all summer from the vantage point of two giant jack-up barges planted squarely in the surf. "One gentleman, who's quite a player in the salvage industry, his comment was, `There's no way you're going to do that job without hurting someone, if not killing them.'?"

The guy was partially right. One crew member broke his foot recently when he stepped off a box the wrong way at the dock in Coos Bay. But beyond that, Titan Salvage proved all the skeptics wrong, even if some will always wonder whether the iconic ship should have been left behind as a tourist attraction.

Titan removed an estimated 1,700 tons of rotting steel from the beach on time and under budget, meaning the company will pack up and head for the next job having fetched a tidy profit, which is never a guarantee in the salvage business.

As of Thursday, the last visible remains of the New Carissa still in the water was a small chunk of metal peeking out from the crashing surf only in the troughs of breaking waves. Once the swell calms down more, divers will descend into the water and blast holes in this and two or three other underwater pieces, then run thick chains through the holes so that cranes from the looming barges can yank them aboard.

When that work is finished, one of the largest shipwrecks in Oregon's history will be history but for one small memento too mired in sediment to be pulled completely free. Divers will slice that piece off at the sand line and leave it at the bottom of the crater the ship once occupied, to be buried once the hole fills in.

"I sent a bunch of people before-and-after pictures today," said Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of State Lands, which oversaw the project. "It just is gone. They did it."

As they wait for better weather, crews are already packing up equipment aboard the jack-up barges and getting ready to go home. They'll dismantle the staging area on the foredune across the beach from the wreck and replant beach grass displaced during the three-month-long project. And the next beachcomber who strolls along the western edge of the north spit wouldn't know there'd even been a ship here, at least not by looking out to sea.

This week brings closure to a long, sordid saga of the Oregon Coast that will live on for decades, the same way Florence's infamous exploding whale has endured 30 years after state transportation officials hatched an ill-conceived plot to dispose of a beached mammal by stuffing it with dynamite.

The New Carissa's story is rife with similar industry bravado and government folly, made all the more embarrassing in hindsight by considering that the same company that successfully dispatched the ship this summer submitted a nearly identical version of its plan shortly after the ship ran aground on Feb. 4, 1999, and leaked 70,000 of oil and diesel fuel onto the beach.

After failed attempts to refloat the wreck, the group tasked with solving the New Carissa problem decided to set the fuel tanks on fire with napalm to burn off leaking oil, which weakened the hull such that it broke in half.

The bow section was towed to sea that March but the stern was more stubborn and stuck around.

Titan submitted a bid to cut the remaining half of the ship apart, but the state went with a different company that suggested an ultimately unsuccessful tow effort and agreed to a lump-sum payment. Titan wanted to be paid by the day, Reed said, but that made the total price tag hard to ascertain.

"Our plan back then was pretty much exactly what was done this time," Reed said. "When the state came to us, we basically just dusted off our old plan."

Eight years later, the ship is finally gone - almost.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; The New Carissa is reduced to just a few barely visible pieces of steel as Titan Salvage finishes up
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 26, 2008
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