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ASG seeks eminent domain in case of sunken vessel releasing pollution

Assistant Attorney General Jay Sales on behalf of the government has moved for the High Court to allow the government eminent domain powers for an emergency condemnation of a vessel which sank over a week ago.

The MV Alice, when it sank, spilled about 1,000 gallons of bilge oil in the harbor. 

The vessel had been abandoned for a very long time according to the government.

The matter was heard before Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond who was accompanied on the bench by Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr.

Sayles said the MV Alice — a 108 foot marine cargo vessel — was last registered under a John Steven Sullivan, as the owner in the territory in 2007, and the registration had expired the same year.

According to the condemnation motion, the owner departed the territory and his current whereabouts are not known. The motion states the government has performed multiple repairs to the MV Alice to keep it from sinking, swamping or breaking loose from its mooring at the harbor, however earlier this month the vessel sank.

Sayles in his motion noted the MV Alice is not seaworthy and is partially resting on the seafloor on the north side of Pago Pago Harbor.

According to the motion, the MV Alice is currently emitting pollution from its hull in the form of waste oil, water contaminated with waste petroleum products and other unidentified pollutants.

The pollution coming from the MV Alice is a health hazard and a hazard to the environment of the territory.

Sayles said the MV Alice is a threat to safe navigation in the harbor and needs to be removed from the navigable waters of American Samoa.

The government filed its condemnation motion and quoted Article I Section 2 of the American Samoa Constitution to take possession and ownership of the MV Alice, allowing the government for immediate remediation of the pollution and scrapping the vessel to prevent further threats to the public’s health and safety.

The government also noted the market value of the MV Alice is $0.00.

During the hearing, Associate Justice Richmond told the government to submit a proposal on what the government intends to do with the vessel and the court will look into it.

Sayles told Samoa News that the last registered owner of the vessel was reported to be in Texas and the government has been trying to locate him, however it has been unsuccessful.

Sayles noted that the Coast Guard has paid for the salvage and clean up operations from the last two vessels that sunk and the government wants to prevent further costs after the Coast Guard turns the vessel over to the government.

He said this is one of the reasons why the government moves to remove the boats from the water and turn them into scrap and this is also for the vessels not to become hindrances to navigation in the harbor.

Sayles pointed out that one of the reasons why owners are able to get away with abandoning their boats in Pago Pago Harbor is because American Samoa does not have a law which expressly forbids this, or an abandoned boat statute.

He noted that the AG’s office is looking at drafting legislation to address this issue.