The former presidential yacht Sequoia, lavishly refurbished in recent months and valued at $1.9 million, was seized yesterday by U.S. marshals because of an overdue $1,300 diesel fuel bill.
The 105-foot vessel--declared a presidential yacht by Herbert Hoover and sold off by Jimmy Carter six years ago as an unnecessary frill--was towed yesterday from its berth at East Potomac Park across the Washington Channel to the Gangplank Marina in Southwest Washington.
Under admiralty law, which allows seizure of a boat for unpaid bills, the Sequoia is being held until its owner pays for 1,345 gallons of diesel fuel delivered to the vessel last Aug. 12 by Southeast Suburban Distributors, a D.C. fuel oil company.
The Sequoia, featured in January on the cover of Architectural Digest and described as "handsome, substantial and seaworthy," is owned by the Presidential Yacht Trust, a nonprofit, Republican Party-oriented organization whose president is Michael Doud Gill, a Washington businessman and nephew of the late Mamie Eisenhower.
Gill yesterday was incensed at the seizure of the yacht, claiming that it was prompted by "people who are out to embarrass us."
"This is ludicrous. People are trying to make publicity. Frankly, the only people this hurts is the country," Gill said.
The Presidential Yacht Trust, using $1.8 million supplied by millionaire San Diego moving van magnate Richard Arendsee, sailed the Sequoia to Washington two years ago in hopes that it would be used by President Reagan. The president has yet to set foot on the vessel.
Gill alleged yesterday that the seizure was related to a dispute the Presidential Yacht Trust has had with the operators of a rival presidential yacht--once called the Barbara Ann by Dwight Eisenhower, the Honey Fitz by John Kennedy and now known as the Presidents'--which was docked at the Gangplank Marina until last November but has since been moved away.
"It is awfully curious that this thing is happening with the Gangplank Marina," Gill said yesterday.
Stuart Law, an attorney representing the fuel companythat requested seizure of the Sequoia, said the yacht was towed simply because of the unpaid fuel bill and that it had nothing to do with the feud between the operators of the two former presidential yachts.
"Despite numerous efforts to recover payment, my client was never paid a penny for the fuel," said Law. He said the yacht was seized under an "admiralty attachment" because "this is a speedy procedure that usually results in a very quick payment."
Gill, who said he will post a bond today for release of the yacht, said the fuel had not been paid for because of a disagreement over how much fuel was ordered. Gill said the fuel company delivered 500 more gallons of diesel fuel than had been ordered. The excess fuel, he said, leaked into the Potomac River.
"We had told them we would be very happy to pay the bill, but that we wouldn't pay for the 500 gallons that went into the river," Gill said.
The Presidential Yacht Trust has been beset with financial problems since 1981, when it was formed to make the Sequoia available to the president and other government leaders. Gill, in a statement to the Baltimore Sunthat he acknowledged yesterday as accurate, recently said the "trust is flat broke, dead broke, and has been all along . . . "
But Gill, who said he has lent $100,000 of his own money to keep the Sequoia afloat, said that after months of litigation over title to the Sequoia his organization has finally attained clear ownership of the yacht and that he now plans to begin raising money to pay its bills.