The issue of abandoned and derelict vessels in the Florida Keys has come to the forefront recently, as an aging tug boat sank off Key West and an old barge is currently being cut up for scrap.
The two vessels have become the dichotomy of how to deal with derelict vessels. The barge has become a success story, as the owners worked with marine salvers and the Coast Guard to remove and destroy the vessel before it could sink.
The barge is currently being cut up at Robbie's Marina on Stock Island and will eventually be sold for scrap for a reported $10,000 in Miami, said Sean Morley, president of the company that hauled the boat out of the water, Key West Harbor Services. The winch of the barge has been removed and will be used on another barge owned by Key West Harbor Services.
But Tilly the tug is not a success story. It has become a liability for state and local governments with the potential $500,000 price tag for its removal from the sea floor off Key West.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is investigating the tug's Feb. 28 sinking just off the main shipping channel and has not determined exactly who should be cited for criminal abandonment of a vessel and pay for the tug's salvage.
Both vessels were once owned by the late Dirk Patriarca. The barge remained in Patriarca's possession, despite its condition, but Patriarca sold the tug to Stephen Freer, who had no practical boating experience and agreed to have it towed and anchored offshore with no working bilge pump.
Freer does not earn enough income to pay for the necessary repairs to the aging tug, let alone a $500,000 salvage bill. He was arrested for trespassing last week and is sitting in the sheriff's office jail in Marathon.
On Wednesday, the Monroe County Commission will discuss how to prevent vessels like the Tilly from sinking and becoming financial burdens for local governments. The commission meets at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center.
County Commissioner George Neugent is concerned about the county possibly picking up the cost of salvage and called for the discussion.
For the past several years, Neugent has pushed for programs that would remove vessels from marinas before they become derelict. Over the past three years, the county has spent more than $500,000 to remove derelict vessels -- money Neugent argued could have been used for managed mooring fields, boat ramps and channel markers.
Monroe County is one of five local governments across the state that has partnered with the FWC on a pilot mooring field program. The program is designed to help local governments deal with live-aboard boaters on issues such as sewage pump out and the removal of boats that are about to become abandoned.
FWC Capt. Dave Dipre plans to attend Wednesday's commission meeting and discuss possibly working with the Coast Guard to prevent the vessels from sinking and being financial liabilities to local and state governments.
The Coast Guard can place a "Captain of the Port" order on a vessel, which restrict's the vessel's movement and in some cases requires a boat not to be moved unless the Coast Guard approves a salvage plan for the vessel. Captain of the Port orders are generally placed on boats in danger of sinking or leaking oil and fuel.
"That authority could benefit everyone, and I want to talk more with them (the Coast Guard) about it," Dipre said.
In November, the Coast Guard placed such an order on another of Patriarca's vessels, the motor yacht Platinum. The vessel, which had begun to sink, can't be moved unless the Coast Guard approves a salvage plan for the vessel, Coast Guard officials said.