How often these days do you see an abandoned car on the side of the road? Fairly infrequently, and if you do there is usually a fluorescent-colored sticker on it indicating that the state or local authorities are preparing to safely tow it away. Abandoned cars, even those out of the flow of traffic, are a danger, right? The same attentive response cannot be guaranteed for abandoned boats across our nation’s waterways. With increasing frequency boats are becoming abandoned and derelict, and they have a negative impact on recreational boating and fishing, leisure activities, and the environment. Nothing ruins your day at the beach more than seeing an old, junked vessel on the horizon.
A recent Oakland Tribune article highlights the challenge that many coastal communities face regarding abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs). Local residents have undertaken the herculean effort to get two abandoned barges removed but have had no success at the local, state, or Federal level. Many local and state agencies lack the laws, staffing, expertise, or significant funding required to address ADVs, and Federal government agencies have strict mandates from Congress defining the roles they play in addressing this growing problem. This challenging reality was shown to be true in the case of the Davy Crockett, a 431-foot barge leaking fuel into the Columbia River and caught between not just Washington and Oregon, but between state and Federal responsibility.
As a result of increased media attention and public concern surrounding ADVs, the NOAA Marine Debris Division recently coordinated a workshop with Federal and state agencies to exchange information and ideas on how to overcome these jurisdictional and procedural hurdles.
The good news is that even though abandoned vessels continue to be a serious concern for coastal communities, many states are working through administrative difficulties to address this challenge. Proposed changes to Washington State legislation would protect local jurisdictions from liability resulting from derelict vessel removal. This would allow the local jurisdictions, which often have specialized background knowledge, to become more involved in protecting their waterways and marinas .
In Florida, enforcement of existing laws can help tackle the problem of ADVs. After nearly a year of investigation and legal maneuvering, a vessel owner received a jail sentence and was ordered to pay restitution for allowing it to become derelict.
Private vehicles on the roadways usually all have insurance, a unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and clear documentation of ownership, but the same is not always true for vessels in our nation’s waterways. Given the sheer (and growing) number of ADVs as well as the significant financial resources required to address them, how do we mitigate this significant economic and environmental problem? The next time I go to the beach, I sure hope I don’t see someone’s wrecked vessel ruining my view.