Abandoned boats on coast impacting environment

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Dozens of abandoned boats are reported along the South Carolina coast.

This issue, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a chronic issue here in our state.

Some reports are decades old and only four have been removed, as of recently, according to MyCoast: South Carolina.

These vessels are not only an eyesore, they are dangerous to both boaters and the environment.

"I just love the outdoors," Alan Richey said. He has been out on the Charleston waters his entire life. "I love it. I grew up out here fishing all the time. It's a safe harbor."

Lately, however, Richey's concern over abandoned boats has grown.

"It's ugly. But most important for me, it's dangerous," Richey said. "When those go down, it creates a navigational hazard. You might hit them in nighttime or even during the day. You can't see them, they're not lit up."

After most major storms, the Charleston coastline sees more abandoned and derelict vessels. Alex Albenesius, the assistant manager at Ripley Light Marina, says this has been happening for decades.

"A hurricane will do what it wants," Albenesius said. "A storm will push its way up in the marsh. You definitely see more and more of it."

These vessels are also detrimental to the coast. They can damage salt marshes and oyster habitats, both of which are recognized as essential fish habitat by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

"You have pollutants coming off the boat, different fuels, sewage, waste," Albenesius said. "It's bad for the environment and that's what it comes down to. We have to keep our ecosystems intact to be able to enjoy them."

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) says insurance is a key factor in these abandoned and derelict vessels. If an owner is not insured and their boat drifts off, then they are then financially responsible for removing the boat and covering and damages. The SCDNR reports removal typically costs around $5,000-10,000.

"Someone has to foot the bill eventually, it's just unfortunate it happens to our marshes," Albenesius  said. "People buy boats but 'BOAT' stands for 'Break Out Another Thousand.' It costs money and it's basically throwing money into the river."

The SCDNR reports they are trying to track down owners through the 90-day abandonment process to help finance the costs or removing abandoned and/or derelict vessels.

"There should be a way to locate the owners and try to get them involved in removing the vessel," Richey said.

Albenesius said this may be an issue for legislation to tackle.

"Something needs to be done about anchorage, where it is, and maybe you have to have insurance to be anchored out. Maybe that will help in the end."

There is a current state law dealing with abandoning a vessel. Owners can be criminally charged.. and there's also the possibility to be sued or fined.

The SCDNR reports there are no current grants to aide in the process of removing abandoned or derelict boats from our coast. There is, however, one available. The SCDNR plans on releasing more details on the potential grant in the upcoming weeks.

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