The New Carissa's Last Stand Oregon/Washington BLM



The New Carissa's Last Stand

"No mercy, no power, but its own controls..."
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

story by Megan Harper and Michael Campbell
photos by Michael Campbell and the United States Coast Guard

Nothing could be truer for the New Carissa and its nearly 10-year relationship with the Oregon Coast, the BLM, and a body of water that always gets its way.

It was February 4, 1999, to be exact, when the New Carissa ran aground. A tempestuous nautical relationship with the sagebrush-oriented BLM began when the wood carrying, bulk cargo ship went aground on Coos Bay's North Spit. Wind and waves from the storm caused the ship to drag anchor and run aground on the beach just north of the entrance to the bay. Within days, cracks developed in the New Carissa's hull, and the vessel began leaking oil.

Even though some of the ship's tar-like "bunker" fuel was burned off before too much of it could leak, the ship lost at least 70,000 gallons into the environment.

Salvage operators and the U.S. Coast Guard struggled for weeks to tow its bow section out to sea. Not to be defeated, the ship broke free of its tow in another storm and washed back onto the beach near Waldport, Oregon. The New Carissa had enough of the seas and was determined to stay on dry land.

The stern section of the vessel has remained stranded in the surf near Coos Bay lo these many years. But, true to New Carissa's history, it's not the end of the story. Work is underway to restore the environment damaged during the oil spill and clean up the ship's remains.

In July of 2007, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians took title to nearly 3,900 acres of Oregon Coast Range forest, as a result of the Oil Pollution Act. The New Carissa Oil Spill Natural Resource Trustees, with the BLM as the lead, jointly announced the land purchase and future management plans to benefit the marbled murrelet seabird population damaged by the oil spill. The Siletz Tribe will manage the coastal forest parcel under a legally binding conservation easement developed with the natural resource trustees.

Also in 2007, the State of Oregon (namely the Oregon Department of State Lands who has overall jurisdiction over the New Carissa) contracted with Titan Maritime, a world leader in marine salvage, to remove New Carissa's stern section from the North Spit. Titan prepared a technologically awesome shipwreck removal plan that involves using two barges positioned adjacent to the wreck to pull and cut the wreckage out of the sand.

The New Carissa's Last Stand
photo by Michael Campbell

The onshore staging area and primary access to this spot is located on public lands administered by none other than the BLM. The Bureau has partnered with the State and Titan to provide free passage to hikers, equestrians, and dune buggies so the public may witness the engineering feat that is this removal process. Titan's efforts began in earnest in March 2008, and will likely be complete by October of this year.

The New Carissa's main cargo? Wood Chips. It could carry over sixteen thousand tons - making it a pretty big "Chip Ship."

While there have been some choppy waters over the last 10 years, this chapter in the land-lovin' BLM's relationship with the sea is rapidly coming to a close.

So, if you haven't made it down to witness the New Carissa, your window is quickly coming to a close. Very soon all that will be left are the not-so-unfamiliar stories and pictures of a ship's long standing battle with the sea.

To see additional photos & learn more about the wreck of the New Carissa, head over to the State of Oregon's homepage.