A boat morgue sits on the waterfront in Coconut Grove. There lies the wreckage from Hurricane Irma, a few dozen victims of the storm’s wrathful winds and surge.
The vessels, mostly sailboats, lie naked on their sides, barnacles baking in the sun, awaiting demolition. They’ve got holes in their hulls, cracks in their keels. Some were submerged and are caked in dried muck. Cabins filled with moldy cushions, broken dishes and flip flops make them look like they’ve been ransacked. Broken masts and corroded engines lie on the ground. Only ghosts stand at the wheels.
It’s not a pretty sight, and it stinks. The stench of sewage, gasoline, fetid saltwater and rotting wood hangs in the air.
If only the orphaned boats could talk, perhaps they could explain what happened on Sept. 10, how they were ripped from their moorings, how they landed awkwardly in strange places — on sidewalks, on pool decks, on a high school football field. Perhaps they could make a plea for their owners to reclaim them. Here lies the Hallelujah, the Knot IV Sale, the Lucky Duck, which was tossed into Peacock Park. There’s the Goose from Norfolk, Va. The Wizard from Baltimore and the Red Hook from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Talisman used to be a houseboat; now it’s an un-seaworthy piece of junk. One boat, acting as a missile, T-boned another and they are stuck together.
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No more excursions on Biscayne Bay or cruises to the Keys. The derelict vessels have been deposited at the Seminole Boat Ramp parking lot at Dinner Key Marina, where, if they remain unclaimed, they will be crushed into pieces and stuffed in a dumpster by a post-Irma government task force called the Emergency Support Function 10 Florida Unified Command (ESF 10), consisting of officers from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Environmental Protection Agency. ESF 10, which also responds to oil spills, has been collecting displaced boats deemed navigational or pollution threats.
Most of the boats were abandoned by owners who could not afford or did not want to pay to have them rescued, removed or repaired. Boat insurance is not required in Florida. So the bill for somebody’s unwanted pleasure craft is handed to the government, which means the taxpayer.
Hundreds of boats littered Florida’s coastlines and waterways after Irma. As of Jan. 8, 2,376 had been removed, according to ESF 10. In Miami, the total stands at 264; in the Keys, 1,676. And when the next hurricane hits, the runaway boat problem will recur.
It’s been four months since Irma, yet nobody knows when the mess will be cleaned up.
“A firm timetable is unavailable,” said Rob Klepper, public information coordinator for the FWC’s law enforcement division. “The FWC has to reach out to all those boat owners and see if they will take care of their boat or relinquish their rights and have it destroyed. It can be fairly difficult to contact owners depending on how and if the title has been transferred. Once we’ve exhausted measures to contact owners then we can move forward 30 days after the final attempt. It is a priority.”
In the meantime, the Seminole ramp — a popular public ramp in a city with a chronic lack of them for boaters — is closed. Its 32 spaces for vehicles with trailers are unavailable. The inconvenience and the eyesore couldn’t come at a worse time. It’s the start of tourist season and the start of sailing season, with Miami and adjacent Regatta Park scheduled to host a number of international regattas over the next three months, including the prestigious World Cup Series stop on Jan. 22-28, which will bring 400 boats and 600 of the world’s best sailors to the Grove.
“Sad,” said French sailor Mathieu Frei as he rigged his 49er next to the graveyard. He and other sailors are allowed to launch from the ramp for practices. “What a terrible waste. And we have to look at it every day. Bad luck, I think.”
Unclaimed boats will be destroyed and hauled away by a waste disposal company, Klepper said.
“They’ll be taken to a landfill or recycling center, and we’ve instructed our contractors to recycle as much as possible,” he said.
Owners of displaced boats are encouraged by ESF 10 to hire a salvage company. If they can’t afford to pay for repairs or determine that their boat is beyond repair, they can release ownership to the state with a waiver. Call the Vessel Removal Hotline at 305-985-3744 for information. Or check the website: http://myfwc.com/boating/vessel-hotline/removal. Homeowners with boats stuck on their property should consult Florida statute 823.11 to find out what financial recourse they may have against vessel owners, Klepper said.