37 Tons of Pot: The Helena Star, Now Sunk in Tacoma, Was Once Record-Setting Dope Ship

Helena_Star credit USCG.jpg

US Coast GuardHelena Star, half-sunk; and the Golden West

No one seems to know much about the ship that sank Friday in Tacoma. It's described by the AP and other media as just another "abandoned ship" that now lies half-submerged in Hylebos Waterway. But old-time pot smokers surely recognized the ship's name right off: The Helena Star was carrying a record-setting 37 tons of marijuana when the Coast Guard seized the old Dutch freighter off the Washington coast in 1978. The haul, valued then at roughly $75 million, remains the region's (and one of the nation's) largest dope busts ever.

The ship's crew and conspirators - ten altogether - were indicted and convicted - two of them after fleeing to Bolivia. A key player, champion freestyle skier Mike Lund of Sequim, fled and was free for 23 years before being caught in 2001 (his fingerprints were traced back through a child-support case brought against him under his new identity, a father of two named Steven McCain). Then 65, he pleaded guilty in exchange for a three-year sentence.

The impounded ship, built in the Netherlands in 1947, was docked for years at Salmon Bay in Seattle, next to the Ballard Bridge, then later sold. But it became an unwanted derelict. In October, a KOMO TV report on abandoned ships cited the Star as one of 226 abandoned vessels that state officials were dealing with.

When the Star sank early Friday, it almost took its sister derelict, the Golden West, with it. According to the October KOMO report, the two were considered high priorities for the state abandoned-ship removal program. The Star was rusting out and the listing West had 20,000 gallons of oil on board.

The report notes there was a tree growing out from the Helena Star's hold. Here's a pic of that. A report on the Star's history at Shipspot notes wistfully, "Someday, perhaps, someone will come to her rescue. Or, she may just suffer her fate at the end of a scrapper's torch." The latter now seems inevitable. As for those tons of pot? They went up in some fine smelling smoke in an industrial furnace. Or so the feds said.

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