Abandoned boats are a growing global problem. Boatbreakers focus our efforts on the UK and Europe but across the Atlantic there is a similar problem occurring. At Boatbreakers we often get enquiries from American boat owners who are looking to dispose of their end of life vessel in a responsible manner. Unfortunately, it seems not every boat owner is so honest and the US now has a problem with abandoned boats that need to be disposed of.
Boats are as part of the Florida Keys as sea life is to the ocean. It’s hard to differentiate one from the other. The problem with that blessing is a growing problem with end-of-life boats, or boats in imminent danger of sinking.
A pilot Vessel Turn-In Program is being trialled by Monroe County’s Marine Resources Office with the help of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The plan is designed to prevent anchored vessels in poor condition but still floating from being abandoned or becoming derelict.
The American marine industry, Environmentalists, and government officials have been grappling with the derelict-boat conundrum for decades. Derelict vessels litter the Florida shorelines and neighborhoods. The disposal process is more complex today than it was 30 or 40 years ago when more vessels were constructed of wood or steel because fiberglass hulls outlive the rest of the boat.
There comes a time in a boat’s life cycle when they are simply not worth the time and money to repair. And it’s then when some irresponsible boat owners choose to abandon boats and let the authorities and the tax payers pay the bill.
The American’s new program would be free for eligible boat owners who own boats between 16 and 40 feet long and for those without the financial resources to pay for disposal and removal. The program would not apply to boat owners who abandon or intentionally sink their vessels. They would remain subject to fines and possible jail time for such actions.
Of all of Florida’s counties, Monroe County was chosen for the state’s pilot program as officials say it has the most derelict vessels. If the program is successful, it might be expanded to other coastal areas of Florida. This could be a good idea for many reasons.
Abandoned scrap boats are eyesores and have no positive value in Florida’s tourism-focused community. Locals believe they convey to visitors a degree of apathy or disinterest in their community, which is not emblematic of how most of Florida’s residents view their home. But removing these vessels costs taxpayer money.
Earlier in 2017, Monroe County took steps to remove around 30 derelict boats from the Marquesas Keys off Key West. The $61,200 project was particularly complex due to the remote location and specialised boats and equipment necessary to perform the job, but all derelict vessel removals will cost money.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will fund the new program through grant agreements from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission therefore Monroe taxpayers won’t have to foot the entire bill for this cleanup program. The new program will provide just slightly more than $100,000 during the first year of the anticipated five-year pilot program.
The Marine Resources Office currently removes about 50 to 90 derelict or abandoned vessels each year at an average annual cost of $160,000 to $180,000 paid from Boating Improvement Funds. Last year, Monroe County spent $283,000 on derelict-vessel removal thanks to an increase in law enforcement and grant funding.
Not long ago, Monroe County conducted workshops to gauge public feeling about how to address this increasing problem. Ideas like instituting a deposit fee at the time a boat is purchased that would be earmarked for disposal, similar to the way that consumers pay a disposal fee when new tyres are purchased for a car, were viewed as a deterrent to boat sales by the marine industry.
Alternative ideas, like repurposing derelict vessels as artificial reefs, a re-use approach instead of a recycling solution, have been floated for years but have not been met with far-reaching acceptance because of the potential for boat fluids to enter and pollute our waters.
So Florida may soon have a viable solution. And even if the Vessel Turn-In Program is not the silver bullet so many have been looking for, it’s the most positive step taken so far in tackling the problem of abandoned boats.