Rock the boats: Officials remove abandoned vessels in area waters

Mark Martin, an employee with Collier County Road and Bridge Department, drags a chain that was used to drag a cabin cruiser from the water at the base of the Goodland Bridge on Thursday. The boat was one of two derelict boats that were pulled from the waters Thursday and of 20 documented abandoned vessels within Collier County Waters. Six agencies - Collier County Sheriff Office, Collier County Coastal Zone Management Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Sea Tow, Collier County Department of Transportation, and Collier County EMS - are pooling resources to clean up the waterways. Lexey Swall/Staff

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Mark Martin, an employee with Collier County Road and Bridge Department, drags a chain that was used to drag a cabin cruiser from the water at the base of the Goodland Bridge on Thursday. The boat was one of two derelict boats that were pulled from the waters Thursday and of 20 documented abandoned vessels within Collier County Waters. Six agencies - Collier County Sheriff Office, Collier County Coastal Zone Management Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Sea Tow, Collier County Department of Transportation, and Collier County EMS - are pooling resources to clean up the waterways. Lexey Swall/Staff

Video from NBC-2

— Officials brought new meaning to rocking the boat as they plucked derelict, abandoned boats from Goodland Bay, demolishing one of them right at the foot of the Goodland Bridge on Thursday morning.

The 32-foot Trojan cabin cruiser named Crystal Ship sat half-submerged about 400 yards from the Goodland Bridge for more than three years, said Sgt. David Bruening of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office marine unit.

The cooperative efforts of several agencies led to getting the boat afloat using large air-filled bags and pulling it to the shore along the side of State Road 92.

Once dragged to the surface, a large dumpster with an extended claw reached down to the boat, clamped first onto the top of the front cabin and began ripping the boat to shreds as it rocked back and forth on its rotten-smelling, barnacle-infested hull. The boat was abandoned about three years ago and may have immediately been deemed derelict, or unnavigable and unseaworthy, because there were no motors on it, Bruening said.

The 1976 cabin cruiser is among 20 boats identified as abandoned vessels in Collier County waters, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

"It gets to the point where the maintenance on these boats are so expensive that the owners just can’t afford it anymore," said Bruening. "Then they just dump them."

That decision leaves officials left with navigational and environmental hazards littering the area waters.

"The problem is trying to locate these owners and that’s ultimately who we want to take responsibility," said Collier Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Michelle Batten.

Crystal Ship’s last registered owner is Judy McNelis, 67, of Naples. A call to her listed phone number led to no answer other than a recording that the voicemail inbox was full.

"Typically these boats have transferred hands at least one or two times and they haven’t done the proper paperwork," said Lt. Mitts Mravic with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A recent tip may lead to the responsible party, who may not be McNelis if she has bill of sale, Mravic said.

As the Crystal Ship was ripped to shreds in the two-hour long process to ready it for its final voyage to the Collier County landfill, officials went to excavate another abandoned vessel about a mile off the Marco River, a 25-foot fully submerged sailboat.

CCSO and U.S. Department of Interior divers hadn’t yet been able to find identifiable markers on the boat that sat abandoned in Turtle Creek for about four years. It will be an all-day affair to get the boat afloat and out of the water, officials said. It will likely be towed to the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla near the 951 Boat Ramp to avoid damaging mangroves with the boat's large lead keel, said CCSO marine unit Cpl. Bob Marvin.

During high tide there was no sign of the sunken vessel, but at low tide a portion of the bow rail protruded from the water, Marvin said.

Just as many boat owners experience dwindling cash flow, Collier County isn’t getting nearly as much money in Legislature-approved grants for vessel removal as they did in previous years, officials reported.

Last year, Collier County Coastal Zone Management received $80,000 for derelict vessel recovery compared to only $75,000 being distributed statewide this year, reported Pamela Keyes, an environmental specialist with Coastal Zone Management.

Collier County hasn’t received any money yet, but is applying for $20,000 this year, Keyes said.

CCSO, Coastal Zone Management, FWC, Sea Tow, Collier County Department of Transportation, Collier County Bureau of Emergency Management and the U.S. Department of Interior are pooling resources together using on-duty personnel to avoid high costs for taxpayers, Bruening reported.

It will cost about $4,800 to remove the cabin cruiser and $3,500 to remove the sailboat, he estimated.

The boats often can leak pollutants into the water such as battery acid, fuel, oil, chemical preservatives and lead paint, officials said.

The sailboat, for example, might only have five gallons of diesel fuel on board, but that’s enough to kill the mangrove the rusty boat was leaning against, Marvin said. "That’s why we have to be so cautious as we pull these out," he said.

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