Florida Keys News
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Sailboat sinks 3 miles offshore

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers are investigating the sinking of another vessel off Key West.

FWC officers are treating the sinking of a roughly 50-foot sailboat three miles southwest of Key West as the criminal abandonment of a derelict vessel, spokesman Bobby Dube said.

The Coast Guard had been issuing warnings about the sunken vessel to boaters, as the sailboat's mast is sticking out of the water. The vessel sank in roughly 25 feet of water, Dube said.

However, the Coast Guard has not placed a buoy on or near the ship warning passing boaters of its presence. That is the responsibility of the boat's owner, Coast Guard Lt. Peter Bermont said.

The sunken vessel was reported to the Coast Guard at 10 a.m. March 3, and the agency started a search-and-rescue operation. The Coast Guard dispatched two boats and a plane to search for possible occupants, Bermont said.

The search was quickly called off after the Coast Guard received information that no one was onboard, and the vessel had been moored or anchored off Wisteria Island in Key West Harbor and had drifted out to sea, Bermont said.

On Tuesday, Bermont could not release the name of the vessel's owner and Dube did not have the owner's name.

The sinking is not the only investigation that has been conducted on the sailboat. The Coast Guard did take a Key West police officer to the boat when it was still parked off Wisteria Island in regards to a trespassing call, Bermont said. There seemed to be an issue about vessel's ownership, and the police directed no one to return to the boat until they could bring the proper paperwork to the police station, Bermont said.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary officials do plan to dive the sailboat to determine if it is resting on coral or seagrass or damaging sealife habitat, Superintendent Sean Morton said. However, the weather has made diving it difficult.

The sinking occurred in the same area where a tugboat sank last month. The FWC is investigating the Feb. 28 sinking of the tugboat Tilly just off the main shipping channel.

The agency has not determined who should be cited for criminal abandonment of a vessel, and pay for the tug's salvage.

Both vessels will be expensive to salvage, and the funding for the undertaking could be paid through Monroe County boater improvement fees if the owners or responsible parties can't pay for the salvage. Boater improvement funds come from local vessel registration fees.

The Monroe County Commission plans to talk about derelict vessels and their removal at its meeting today in Marathon. The county and FWC have partnered in recent years to remove vessels before they sink.

The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway.

tohara@keysnews.com

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