New state law targets abandoned and derelict vessels
June 17, 2008 · Updated 2:50 PM
If youve ever thought about abandoning your boat, youd better think again.
The state Legislature is considering a bill making boat abandonment a crime; it also cracks down on derelict boats that pose a safety or environmental hazard.
House Bill 2376 empowers local governments to track down the last registered owner for reimbursement of expenses associated with boat disposal and cleanup. If the boat leaks oil or fuel, the costs for the owner can be enormous.
Its a step in the right direction, said Ed Barrett, harbormaster of the Friday Harbor Port District. He said boat abandonment is an increasing problem; there are six boats abandoned within the district four have sunk and two are on shore. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Islands Oil Spill Association went recently to Beaverton Cove on San Juan Island to remove oil and fuel from a sinking, derelict boat. Another sank when private parties tried to removed the boat from Westsound.
A former U.S. Coast Guard vessel sank in Shaw Islands Blind Bay Jan. 28, soiling the beach with oil and leaving a thin fuel slick that migrated to Lopez Island. While the 65-foot vessel is not considered abandoned the owner lives on Orcas Island its sinking points to the potential for catastrophe that H.B. 2376 hopes to prevent.
It could have been worse if wildlife were in the area where (the oil leaked), said Julie Knight of Islands Oil Spill Association. If a flock of birds had been (on the water) next to the boat, it could have impacted them.
Knight believes the boat sank Jan. 27. The next day, residents of the Blind Bay area complained of diesel smell and one man found debris that had washed ashore.
Volunteers from Islands Oil Spill Association also known as IOSA worked overnight to clean the spill, placing a containment boom to contain the spill in one place. However, a light sheen remained on the water Jan. 28. Knight said Washington State Ferries called her Jan. 29 to report a sheen in Harney Channel between Orcas and Lopez islands.
According to H.B. 2376:
The legislature finds that there has been an increase in the number of derelict and abandoned vessels that are either grounded or anchored upon publicly or privately owned submerged lands, the bill reads. These vessels are public nuisances and safety hazards as they often pose hazards to navigation, detract from the aesthetics of Washingtons waterways, and threaten the environment with the potential release of hazardous materials.
The legislature further finds that the costs associated with the disposal of derelict and abandoned vessels are substantial, and that in many cases there is no way to track down the current vessel owners in order to seek compensation.
HB 2376 says a vessel is considered abandoned when the vessels owner is not known or cannot be located, or if the vessels owner is known and located but is unwilling to take control of the vessel, and the vessel has been left, moored, or anchored in the same area without the express consent of the owner or lessee of the aquatic lands below or on which the vessel is located for either a period of more than 30 consecutive days or for more than a total of 90 days in any 365-day period.
HB 2376 says a vessel is considered derelict if the vessels owner is known and can be located, and exerts control of a vessel that:
(a) Has been moored, anchored, or otherwise left in the waters of the state or on public property.
(b) Has been left on private property without authorization of the owner; or
(c) Has been left for a period of seven consecutive days, and: (I) Is sunk or in danger of sinking; (II) Is obstructing a waterway; or (III) Is endangering life or property.
According to Jackie Wolf of IOSA, toxic materials getting into the water because of abandoned and/or derelict boats is an ongoing problem.
IOSA has been paged 294 times since 1988; 59 of those calls required ongoing clean-up, recovery of fuel and/or removal of other pollutants, and many of those involved sinking or sunken boats, Wolf wrote in a letter to the editor:
The impact of a release from a sunken vessel can be substantial. There is currently a spill response going on in Monterey Bay, where 500 birds have so far been affected by a spill believed to be from a boat that sank years ago and is now corroded to the point where its tanks are periodically releasing large amounts of oil.
Wolf advised boat owners to remove hazardous materials from boats.
Fuel, paint thinner, hazardous materials of all sorts are usually in the picture where boats are involved, she wrote. Because boats around here live in saltwater, corrosion happens, holes appear, things begin to go awry. If you see that happening to a boat you know, try to get the fuel tanks pumped and all the hazardous materials removed. The cost of doing so can be less than $100.
Getting fuel removed when the boat is underwater is a whole different category of costs ... getting a derelict boat out of the water is one of the best things you can do.
For more information, call IOSA at 378-5322. If you know of a spill or a spill threat, call the Sheriffs Office at 378-4151 and the IOSA on-call person will be paged.
Editor Richard Walker reports on local government, politics and economic development for sanjuanjournal.com and The Journal of the San Juan Islands, sister publications of islandssounder.com and The Islands Sounder. He can be reached at (360) 378-4191 ext. 15 or email.