The Great White Steamer Catalina disappeared from its mooring in Los Angeles Harbor last weekend and has turned up at anchor off Ensenada, but the ship's owners said Wednesday they have "no idea at all" what it is doing there.
"Nobody told us it was being moved," said Ruth Singer, who has been co-owner of the Catalina since her husband, Hymie, bought it for her as a Valentine's Day present in 1977. "Maybe it's been stolen."
Mexican authorities, however, said the 285-foot vessel was towed to Ensenada by Orange County realtor Gene Webber, who identified himself as lessor-operator and told a port agent that he planned to repaint and refurbish it there and then use it "for tourist purposes."
Webber heads a firm that leased the Catalina from the Singers two years ago with the stated intention of returning it to service on the San Pedro-Avalon tourist-ferry run, but the firm never followed through on the plan.
The old steamship, weather-beaten and rusted after years of disuse, had become something of a problem for Coast Guard authorities during the last few years. Stripped by vandals and unseaworthy because of long neglect, it was declared a hazard to navigation at one point and evicted from its dock in a dispute over unpaid fees.
More recently, it had developed the annoying habit of wandering from its mooring in Los Angeles Harbor. On Dec. 12, 1984, the ship came adrift during a gale and went aground onto the rocks of the U.S. Navy breakwater in Long Beach Harbor. It broke free again six weeks later and menaced a motor ship and a tanker before a passing tug went to the rescue.
The Coast Guard contacted the Singers and Webber, informing them that they might be sued for salvage to meet costs incurred through what it termed owner negligence. But nothing happened. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Barrier, assistant legal officer for the 11th Coast Guard District, said the Singers and Webber appeared to be involved in a dispute about who bears responsibility for the old vessel.
"Both wanted to blame the other or wash their hands of it," he said.
Coast Guard Lt. Catharine McNally said a Los Angeles Harbor pilot reported seeing the Catalina leave the harbor under tow Sunday.