Feds sue to recover cost of M/V Challenger cleanup

The federal government is suing to recover more than $2.5 million spent cleaning up a World War II-era tugboat that sank in Juneau’s Gastineau Channel.

The Justice Department filed suit Thursday against R.D. Robinson, a Juneau sculptor, who took possession of the M/V Challenger in 2014.

A previous owner had used the converted 96-foot tugboat as a floating bed-and-breakfast in Seattle. Robinson had planned to use it as an artist’s studio.

But the aging vessel’s wooden hull had deteriorated, and the vessel sank in 2015.

The Coast Guard raised the tug and towed it away for disposal using funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Two years later Robinson was billed $2,541,197.98 but hasn’t paid a penny, according to the complaint filed in federal court.

In an interview with the Juneau Empirein 2016, Robinson disputed he was the Challenger’s lawful owner and therefore responsible.

Gov. Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 92 this year which creates a new titling program requiring owners to register their boats. The bill also streamlines impound procedures.

Derelict vessels are a growing problem in Alaska.

The M/V Lumberman, another World War II-era tug, currently lies abandoned in Gastineau Channel tidelands not far from where the Challenger sank.

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Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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