Community News

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After a long career in the Navy and Coast Guard, a 213-foot ship docked in Anacortes is being prepared to, ultimately, help in the cleanup of what’s become known as the Pacific Garbage Patch as well as other Earth-friendly jobs.

The ship, which has been docked at Lovric’s shipyard for the past four years, is being acquired for $180,000 by Ocean Guardian, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization headed by President and CEO Kenneth Welch, a 45-year old, 6’7” Army Reservist, who has has served in the Navy on board the USS Midway. Welch has also been a combat engineer in the Army.

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Acushnet has been docked at Lovric’s since the federal prosecution of a man that federal prosecutors claim defrauded a wealthy widow during a string of frauds that saw him blow through more than $1 million taken from the 83-year-old woman’s life savings.

The ship was originally USS Shackle, a rescue and salvage ship responsible for coming to the aid of stricken vessels. Then, as the renamed Acushnet, she had long service with the Coast Guard. She patrolled the North Pacific and was the sole remaining World War II era ship on active duty in the US fleet when she was retired.

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Welch, who is taking on the job of restoring the ship with only one or two volunteers at the moment, is looking for funding and new volunteers. His restoration plan includes necessary work in a dry dock, which he is still looking for. And, he says, they will need to locate and pull to the surface the anchors which authorities cut and dropped into the waters off Friday Harbor during the fraud prosecution.

But, once the ship is restored, Welch says Ocean Guardian has several programs planned, starting off with a visit to the Cook Islands of New Zealand as a combined humanitarian mission, ocean cleanup and as part of a shark research project currently under way there.

Once the Cook Islands mission is accomplished, which Welch says could take two months, Acushnet will head to Midway Island to assist in cleanup operations there, then head off to the Pacific Garbage Patch to try to clean up the floating debris there.

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Welch said, “Our focus is to clean the surface plastic, midwater, and oceanic floor to remove the submerged garbage,” which he said is causing the most damage to the oceans and wildlife. The plan includes recycling whatever can be reused and incinerating what can not be reused.

Welch said he is looking for as much as $1 million for restoration. He said he is seeking potential government contracts to help get things moving. The ship, which Welch calls, “a rare jewel,” clearly is devoted to getting the ship in shape to sail. During a tour of the ship, Welch pointed out that some of the restoration is simply a cleanup inside, but that the engineering plant needs serious work.

Welch said Ocean Guardian plans to make Anacortes home base for the organization and the ship, as well.

For more information, visit the Ocean Guardian Web site.

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