Derelict vessel rules go to governor

State legislation that would give local marine officers more latitude in dealing with derelict vessels before they sink has passed both the state Senate and House of Representatives and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Derelict vessels have been a huge problem off the Florida Keys, and Monroe County government has spent more than $270,000 a year recently to remove them from area waters. The money comes from locally generated vessel registration fees, which could be used for issues that benefit boaters more, such as channel markers and boat ramps.

The expense of salvaging such vessels grows exponentially once they are abandoned and sink, which is the case most of the time in Monroe County. Rarely does the county recoup the salvage costs for derelict vessels, county and FWC officials said.

SB 1300 and HB 7025, which is sponsored by Florida Keys State House Rep. Holly Raschein, prohibits vessels that are at risk of becoming derelict from anchoring on, mooring on, or occupying state waters and authorizes Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers or specified local law enforcement officers to determine that vessels are at risk of becoming derelict and ordering them removed or fixed.

A FWC officer or local marine officer may determine that a vessel is at risk of becoming derelict if any of the following conditions exist:

  • The vessel is taking on or has taken on water without an effective means to remove water.
  • Spaces on the vessel that are designed to be enclosed are incapable of being sealed off or remain open to the elements for extended periods of time.
  • The vessel has broken loose or is in danger of breaking loose from its anchor.
  • The vessel is left or stored aground unattended in such a state that would prevent the vessel from getting underway, is listing due to water intrusion, or is sunk or partially sunk.

“This is just an added tool we need,” said FWC. Lt. Dave Dipre, who oversees derelict vessel operations in Monroe County. “If we see there is a tremendous amount of (algal) growth on the bottom, or the mast is down or the running lights or anchor light are not working, we can do something. We don’t have to wait until it sinks.”

Monroe County is among a handful of counties participating in a FWC pilot program that gives local governments more control as to where vessels can be moored and on placing stiffer regulations on the pumping of sewage and keeping vessels from being abandoned. The pilot program is slated to sunset in 2017.

“(County) Marine Resources (Division) staff anticipates that the At Risk Bill, if approved, will help in the prevention of derelict vessels, in the Keys and around the state,” said Rich Jones, who oversees Monroe County Marine Resources Division. “On the derelict vessel removal side, Marine Resources staff continues to apply for FWC Boating Improvement Program grant dollars to help augment the county’s Boating Improvement Fund to assist with the removal of additional derelict vessels.”

tohara@keysnews.com

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